Barcelona are the best team in Spain and Europe. However, their Champions League exits this year show that they have gotten too dependent on Lionel Messi to carry them through tough matches. Now, Barcelona’s stranglehold has been broken as a result of their first knockout round miss in 17 seasons – illustrating just how far they’ve fallen since last winning it all back then.
Barcelona’s Champions League exit, their first knockout round miss in 17 seasons, proves how far they have fallen. Barcelona has been one of the top football clubs in Europe for years, but this year they were knocked out by a team that was not even expected to win the competition.
In the coming season, Barcelona will compete in the Europa League. Barcelona, the same team that sought to build a European Super League earlier this year and still wants to do so, is no longer good enough to go to the knockout stages of the Champions League, dropping out for the first time in 17 seasons. In a Super League, what chance would they have?
Benfica’s 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich in second gear on Wednesday, combined with a huge victory over Dynamo Kiev in Lisbon, consigned them to third place in Group E and Thursday night football in 2022. Barca will not be in the final 16 of Europe’s premier tournament for the first time since 2003-04, when they failed to qualify for the competition.
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Barca’s downfall will come as little surprise to those who have followed the club attentively in recent years. They’ve won the Champions League four times since their previous appearance in the Europa League, when it was still known as the UEFA Cup, in 2004. However, after winning it in 2015, things have drastically worsened. In the last four seasons, they’ve lost by three goals or more against Paris Saint-Germain (twice), Juventus (twice), Roma, Liverpool, and Benfica in Europe. Then there’s Bayern, who have defeated them three times in the last 16 months by three goals or more, for an aggregate score of 14-2.
If Bayern Munich and their Premier League counterparts set the standard in Europe, then a snow-covered Allianz Arena on Wednesday was the latest indication of how far Barcelona has fallen. When asked why Bayern Munich is currently so far ahead of Barcelona ahead of this week’s match, defender Gerard Pique claimed it’s because Bayern is a better-run club. He remarked pessimistically, “It’s as easy as that.”
Pique and Barcelona were plainly second best against Bayern Munich once again, with the disparity between the two teams revealing how far the Spanish giants still have to go. Quality Sport Images/Peter Salado
While it is true that former president Josep Maria Bartomeu pushed the club into the mud — Joan Laporta took over this year with the club’s total debt at €1.4 billion — that simple perspective absolves the players of any guilt, as they were exposed once again in Munich. It’s a cliché, but anytime Barca plays Bayern at the moment, it’s men vs. boys. The German team is bigger, faster, smarter, and more well-coached.
Early on, Barca sought to take the game to Bayern, but they were just not good enough. Even against a team that, in theory, had nothing to play for, having already clinched first place in the group and being without Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka, and Serge Gnabry due to injury. Ansu Fati, Pedri, and Sergio Aguero are among the Barca players who have been sidelined due to injury.
Barca’s greatest opportunity fell to Ousmane Dembele, who was making his first start of another injury-plagued season, but there was only one winner from the time Thomas Muller opened the score in the first half. After superb work from Alphonso Davies, one of Barca’s main tormentors in Bayern’s 8-2 quarterfinal triumph two seasons ago, Leroy Sane scored the second from distance — Marc-Andre ter Stegen may have done better — and Jamal Musiala finished the scoring in the second half.
Pique said Barca had struck rock bottom after that 8-2 setback, but things haven’t changed much since then. It’s no longer only about losing to Bayern; it’s also about failing to beat the competition’s allegedly inferior teams. This season, Barcelona has only scored two goals in six games against Dynamo Kiev, Benfica, and Bayern Munich. Bayern has a total of 22 goals. Barca has 25 goals to Robert Lewandowski’s 27 in all competitions, and the Polish international didn’t even get on the scoreboard on Wednesday night.
Barcelona has won only 10 of their previous 24 European road games, and has lost five of their last nine Champions League games. It’s difficult to come up with a favorable statistic. They will now hope that the Europa League really represents the bottom of the league and that the rebuilding can begin here. Immediately after the game, coach Xavi Hernandez expressed optimism, saying, “A new era is beginning.”
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The signing of club veteran Xavi, as well as Laporta’s return as president earlier this year, had sown the seeds for change, but the Bayern game was just his sixth in command. It may take him five years to bring Barcelona back into the Champions League race. Dani Alves, who is 38 years old, has also been reintroduced to the squad as a player, as the club looks to a blend of nostalgia, veterans, and youth to get them back to the top. With the exception of Frenkie de Jong, there aren’t many players on the team that are in their prime.
There was only going to be one winner from the minute Bayern scored their opening goal. As the Bundesliga side pushed away in the second half, Sane scored his second goal. EPA/Philipp Guelland
Financial constraints that caused Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann to go in the summer have resulted in more possibilities for a group of brilliant teenagers. Gavi, Nico Gonzalez, Ronald Araujo, and Abde Ezzalzouli, in addition to Pedri and Ansu, have been among the greatest performances this season. The Europa League may be beneficial to them. Xavi will have spent nearly three months with his side by the time the league resumes in February.
Similarly, the Europa League might be Barcelona’s best chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season. After losses to Rayo Vallecano and Real Betis in LaLiga, a top-four finish in the Spanish league is far from certain after 15 games.
Another cliché in Barcelona right now is “it is what it is,” which stems from former coach Ronald Koeman’s now-famous remark following Barcelona’s 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich at Camp Nou in September, which was highly criticized by the local media. There’s perhaps no better way to describe Barca’s current scenario.
Since Xavi came over, there have been some improvements, but Bayern once again shown how much work Barca still has to do. They can live with not making it to the Champions League knockout rounds this season, but missing out entirely next year would be a financial catastrophe for many. They may want to put organizing a Super League on hold until then.
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