Thu. Sep 23rd, 2021

“This will be an interesting game to draw conclusions about where we are,” Ronald Koeman had said. The answer, as they suspected, was a long way off the teams who aspire to win the Champions League. For now, at least. Thirteen months later Barcelona were beaten by Bayern Munich once again. It wasn’t eight, but it wasn’t great either. Two goals from Robert Lewandowski and one from Thomas Müller completed a 3-0 victory but it wasn’t even about the numbers, it was about the overwhelming sense of superiority.

Bayern had ultimately eased to this victory, the final minutes played out to the fans here ironically cheering a ball being thrown around the stands rather than one being passed around the pitch, of which there were not many that mattered. As for shots on target, there were none of them from the home side. The game by then had long since escaped Barcelona; only very briefly had they been in it. Bayern were just too good, perhaps predictably.

If there wasn’t much optimism beforehand – Lisbon hanging heavy, realism too – at the beginning of what would prove a long evening there was an unexpected enthusiasm. Camp Nou was noisy and momentarily surprised by what it was witnessing – Memphis Depay dropping to receive, Jordi Alba keen to run, Sergi Roberto turning and hitting the first real shot over the bar – but those early signs of life did not last long.

Bayern took a hold of this and were soon securely installed inside Barcelona’s half, around the edge of their area and often inside it. Although there were not many clear chances, it felt like that owed more to Bayern’s willingness to wait and not to force it than Barcelona’s ability to keep them at arm’s length.

Sané was swift on the left, Musiala gracefully came inside from the right, and Leon Goretzka stepped through a growing space in the middle. The nerves grew too, a dark realisation. An assimilation of inferiority perhaps.

There was a timidity about Barcelona now as they focused largely on protecting themselves. Forced right back, Piqué, Araujo and García all had to make interceptions, while Ter Stegen pushed away a shot from Sané.

Marc-André ter Stegen is beaten by the deflection off Eric García as Thomas Müller put Bayern ahead.
Marc-André ter Stegen is beaten by the deflection off Eric García as Thomas Müller put Bayern ahead. Photograph: Lluís Gené/AFP/Getty Images

When the goal came after half an hour, the finish was fortunate but the move was not. Memphis had lost possession on one side and Bayern worked it to the other. Sixteen passes later, the last of them exchanged at speed between Davies, Sané, and Goretzka to leave Piqué, Araujo and Sergio Roberto pulled out of position and Muller on the edge of the box.

Eric García turned his back and the shot went off him and into the net. Araujo then had to intercept again as Sané headed back into the area almost straight from kick off.

Much the same happened from the kick off at the start of the second half. A neat one-two between Sané and Lewandowski saw the former Manchester City striker shoot from close range, only for Ter Stegen to reach down and make a superb save with a combination of hand and foot.

Barcelona were getting deeper, Luuk De Jong heading back to help the nine players within a metre of their area and arriving just in time to watch from close range as the second goal was scored. This time, Musiala struck against the post and Lewandowski reached out a boot to guide the rebound into the net.

There were whistles now, and again as Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto were withdrawn. Luuk de Jong and García followed, not so much punishment as recognition that this game was already gone. The demands made of the men – kids – coming on were simple enough, at least from the fan’s point of view: rebel a little, try something.

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Gavi, 17, and Yusuf Demir, 18, were received warmly by supporters hoping to see in them some hope for the future. So too did Coutinho, who was on the other side the night of the 8-2 and drew applause for a blocked shot.

Alejandro Balde, another teenager, joined them when Alba had to withdraw. There was a brief spark and then Bayern reasserted themselves again, Lewandowski literally leaving Pique on the floor for the third. Barcelona had been there for a while.

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