Bayern Munich defeated Barcelona 3-0 on Wednesday night at Camp Nou to win the group and move on to the Round 16 of the Champions League.
Internazionale’s 4-0 victory over Viktoria Plzen in the early window of play on Wednesday ensured that Xavi Hernandez’s team had no chance of advancing to the knockout phase for the second year.
Sadio Mane and Eric Maxim Choupo scored goals in the first half and a late header from Benjamin Pavard helped Bayern secure first place in Group C with one game remaining and 15 points, while Inter Milan took second. No matter what happens on the last matchday, Barcelona will finish third and advance to the Europa League.
The Catalan club’s performance on Wednesday is yet another setback. It could wind up costing more than it did last year because the team embarked on a spending binge in the summer to strengthen their squad in the hopes of recouping some of that money with a strong performance in European play.
Barcelona knew their chances of winning the Champions League were finished after Inter Milan defeated Viktoria Plzen earlier on Wednesday, and they occasionally behaved like a side in mourning against Bayern. Even though Xavi Hernandez insisted prior to the game that this was an opportunity for Barcelona to demonstrate their ability to compete on the largest platform, they once again fell short against one of Europe’s finest teams, as was the case in their most recent Clasico loss to Real Madrid.
Barca will and has already lamented missed opportunities in Munich, officials’ choices in Milan, and individual gaffes in the 3-3 draw against Inter, but the truth is that they haven’t been strong enough in any of their five Champions League games this year. That is reflected in the fact that they only have four points.
You cannot defend against Bayern as they did. Xavi will have been upset by how quickly Sadio Mane and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting found the net. Bayern also appeared to be capable of shifting up a few more gears. Before halftime, a third goal was only prevented by a last-ditch block by Hector Bellerin and a superb stop by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. All three goals were scored by Serge Gnabry, who also had one goal disallowed for offside before setting up a stoppage-time set-play for an unmarked Benjamin Pavard to score the third.
In contrast, despite their passing, huffing, and puffing, Barca never truly put Bayern’s replacement goalkeeper Sven Ulreich to the test. As a result of a challenge by Matthijs de Ligt on Robert Lewandowski, the closest they came to scoring was an overruled penalty. As a result, Lewandowski had to endure another trying night playing against the team he left for €45 million in the summer.
After selling club assets in the summer, Barca spent almost €150 million on the team in an effort to advance further in the Champions League. How do they regroup from here if it is no longer possible?
LaLiga will suddenly take center stage. Despite the loss to Madrid, they have had a strong start to the season and are only three points behind the leaders after 11 games and just one loss. Lewandowski, the league’s leading scorer, and an up-and-coming group of youthful talent, led by Pedri and Gavi, should allow them to keep Carlo Ancelotti’s team in check.
They aren’t the favorites right now, though, and Xavi even suggested he could lose his job if they don’t bring home a trophy this year. That leaves the Europa League, where they will be favorites while being aware of its dangers after shockingly losing to Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarterfinal last year. The Spanish Supercopa and the Copa del Rey are further competitions. Although it is not what they had hoped for when they unveiled Lewandowski, Rafinha, and Jules Kunde in the summer, there is still much space for progress from the trophy-less campaign of the previous year.
The supporters do appear to have some patience. It helps that club legend Xavi is leading the initiative, and this season’s average Camp Nou attendance of over 80,000 people demonstrates that there is a link. There were 84,016 people there to watch Bayern lose, and those who stayed until the very end sang nonstop.
One of the markers for the direction Xavi wants to take his Barcelona team is Bayern. Additionally, they are the team Barca must be sickest of playing. They have now defeated the Catalans six times in a row, a streak that dates back to 2015 and includes victories of 8-2 and three 3-0, and their 11th triumph in 15 matches.
They gave a really polished effort at Camp Nou. As they wrapped up first place ahead of their final match at home against Inter, where they will try to make it six wins from six from what some referred to as the competition’s roughest group, they still played as if there were something riding on the game.
The fact that they were missing Leroy Sane, Lucas Hernandez, and Manuel Neuer due to injury, and that Thomas Muller was only considered fit for a cameo in the second half, made their victory all the more impressive. Even though Union Berlin is currently preventing them off the top of the Bundesliga, they still remain one of the teams to be feared in Europe because to players like Mane, Gnabry, and Jamal Musiala.