Just under 13 months after that historic 8-2 demolition in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal, Barcelona and Bayern Munich were back at it – this time for the blockbuster Matchday 1 Group E clash of the 2021/22 campaign of the tournament.
A few things changed after that, most notably for Barcelona who saw new manager Ronald Koeman taking charge, Lionel Messi leaving, and a few more notable departures taking place including those of Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann, both of whom went to Atlético Madrid.
Bayern’s core squad, meanwhile, remained relatively unchanged, though, key defenders Jérôme Boateng and David Alaba departed while the likes of Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer came in from RB Leipzig, along with new manager Julian Nagelsmann.
Still, old wounds remained unlicked, and a big battle was set to take place in Barcelona. The 22 central participants were named an hour prior as ever, and there was yet more intrigue in the hosts’ camp as they appeared to be deploying a three centre-back system for the first time this season.
Six of the starters from that historic quarterfinal retained their places, while the rest were either not Barcelona players anymore or, in Clément Lenglet’s case, injured. Bayern, meanwhile, kept seven of their players from that game along with their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
Therefore, almost half of the men on the pitch in this match were different and both dugouts had new managers, yet most of the central themes in this game seemed all too familiar. Bayern continued to absolutely dominate both with and without the ball, while Barça kept causing their own problems and truly looked miles away from their opponents in all aspects of the game.
The only real differences this time were that every half-dangerous Bayern shot did not go in, while Barcelona somehow managed to look even more toothless in attack – not even registering a single shot on target.
Tactical issues were not the biggest problem for the home side on the night, but they certainly did exist – most notably defensively. They primarily sat in a 5-3-2 mid-block…
…but looked to push high up the pitch when Bayern had the ball in their own box. However, there were major problems with their structure.
First of all, Ronald Koeman was reluctant to push his wing-backs too high for fear of being caught out, especially on the right where Alphonso Davies was superior both technically and in terms of speed against Sergi Roberto. (Funnily enough, Davies seemed to be Bayern’s favourite outlet anyway). Secondly, Bayern were easily able to create numerical overloads in the middle of the park by asking one of their attackers to drop deep when Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka were marked by Pedri and Frenkie de Jong.
All of this contributed to a complete disaster of a high block, where Barcelona were barely able to cut off one passing option and incessantly conceded transition after transition, where Bayern’s superior individual qualities took the spotlight.
There were so many of such attacks conceded that we could go on all day dissecting them, so it’s best that we move on.
The pressing phase is also where the difference in tactical class was highlighted most – while Koeman’s side struggled to close down even just the Bayern midfielders, Julian Nagelsmann had Barcelona trapped deep in their own half with ease.
The German champions turned possession over in Barcelona’s half a whopping 17 times, firmly hemming their opponents in close to their own goal.
This is basically the pattern the entire game followed – Barcelona fail to play out from the back and either lose the ball in a dangerous situation or more commonly punt it long, Bayern then circulate it around the back before slicing through their hosts with ease, and rinse and repeat.
In truth, the visitors hardly ever got out of second gear at best, but they simply did not have to. Everything they did – press high up the pitch, play through Barcelona’s defence or even combine in the final third – seemed to be so incredibly effortless that one might have easily mistaken this for a training session.
If anything, this match only illustrated exactly how far the mighty have fallen in Barcelona’s case, and how that 8-2 mauling was not a bad day at the office but in fact long overdue. Worse yet, the Catalan giants seem to still be going down the ever treacherous slope, and it is incredibly difficult to tell when or even if they will ever reclimb those glorious heights they once showed the world.
Sergio Agüero once uttered the words ‘different gravy’ during his Manchester City days, and that perfectly encapsulates Barcelona’s position in contrast to the truly elite clubs in the world right now. Their current gravy is poisoned beyond redemption, so their only hope can be to start cooking a new one.
Stats courtesy WhoScored.