No shame in latest defeat to Bayern but Barca are no longer genuine rivals

By Sports Desk September 14, 2021

"It's shameful," a shellshocked Gerard Pique said in the aftermath of Barcelona's 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich. "Shame is the word."

The sentiment was different on Tuesday, as Barca at least this time battled, but Bayern were comfortable again, 3-0 winners in the Champions League at Camp Nou.

The Blaugrana's remarkable August 2020 humiliation was so significant because these sides were supposed to be rivals of a similar standard. Thirteen months on to the day, Bayern were backed to win big again. The only surprise was that Barca limited their opponents to three.

The Catalan club eventually heeded Pique's calls for "changes at all levels" – new president, new coach, new team – but it is tough to sincerely suggest this is a better outfit, even if they have a little more fight.

While Pique was one of six players in the XI remaining from the line-up in Lisbon, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were among the five to make way. Antoine Griezmann, called off the bench in the quarter-final, has also now departed. Those three outstanding attackers accounted for Barca's seven shots in that tie.

Instead, Luuk de Jong debuted on Tuesday, with Barca still searching for a post-Messi formula. Griezmann was one of two players to have moved on from Barcelona since starting their previous match at the end of August.

Perhaps Ronald Koeman deserves credit then for forging some sort of coherent unit in the interim. A three-man defence made Ronald Araujo a star in the opening stages as he battled Leroy Sane, helping Barca reach the 31-minute mark unbreached – the 2019-20 clash brought a record four Bayern goals in the same period.

But pressure was building and the breakthrough followed three minutes later as Araujo's defensive colleague Eric Garcia turned his back to a long-range Thomas Muller attempt and inadvertently deflected the ball beyond Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Koeman, coach of the Netherlands when Barcelona were taking their drubbing last year, told this week of how "several players suffered a lot" in Portugal, possibly explaining a reluctance to come out of their shell after going behind.

Revenge had been on the Barca boss's mind as he discussed looking "for our style to hurt the opposition", but that felt optimistic here. Before and after the opener on Tuesday, Dayot Upamecano dominated De Jong and Memphis Depay, winning nine of 15 duels, making four tackles and four interceptions.

Bayern have now won eight of 12 games against Barca but rarely can they have been so clearly superior, not tallying an eye-catching score but controlling proceedings with a conviction that the five-time European champions lacked the attacking talent to trouble them. The hosts did not muster a shot on target in a Champions League game for the first time since at least 2003-04, Opta said.

That gulf should not have come as news to Koeman, even if he wore a concerned expression when Robert Lewandowski stabbed in a simple second, Alphonso Davies' shot having been blocked and Jamal Musiala's follow-up striking the post. Offering some of his more sobering thoughts earlier this week, Koeman had pondered: "Can you get back to the level where you will really win Champions Leagues and be the best in Spain for years in a row? That is not the case at the moment. Let's hope that it will come again."

The crowd appear to have come to terms with the same realism. Having been absent when Barca's oldest Champions League XI played out the previous meeting, they stuck with a team that featured four teenagers by full-time. The veteran Pique was still on the pitch, too, to hopelessly fall at the feet of Lewandowski following another rebound five minutes from the end, giving the forward time to find the net once more.

Pique led the applause in a show of appreciation for those supporters at the final whistle, as attention now turns to simply getting out of the group. It is a modest ambition, but this is the first time Barca have lost a Champions League opener since 1997-98.

Beyond that, the financial rewards surely provide more achievable aims than the prizes on offer for Bayern and Co. Revenge in this fixture will have to wait. For how long, who knows?

Related items

  • Arsenal boss Arteta baffled by McArthur foul on Saka in last-gasp draw with Palace Arsenal boss Arteta baffled by McArthur foul on Saka in last-gasp draw with Palace

    Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta was left baffled by referee Mike Dean's decision not to dismiss James McArthur in his side's 2-2 Premier League draw with Crystal Palace, despite the aid of VAR.

    Alexandre Lacazette struck a dramatic stoppage-time goal to rescue a point for Arsenal after Palace had recovered from 1-0 down to lead 2-1 in the dying stages of Patrick Vieira's return to his former club on Monday.

    However, Arteta believes visitors Palace should have been reduced to 10 men just before half-time when McArthur caught Bukayo Saka with a late foot as they competed for an aerial ball.

    Despite the hosts being incensed by McArthur's challenge, the Palace midfielder received a yellow card from Dean, while England international Saka was forced to withdraw from the action at the interval due to injury,

    Gunners boss Arteta was adamant that the incident warranted further punishment, especially with the assistance of video technology.

    "It's a clear red card. [McArthur had] no intention to play the ball," he told BBC Sport. "I don't know how with VAR, he hasn't been sent off."

    While generally disappointed with Arsenal's performance, Arteta praised the resilience they demonstrated to ensure a share of the spoils.

    Arsenal made two errors leading to goals in a Premier League game for the first time since April 2019 against Wolves and for the first time at the Emirates since December 2017 versus Manchester United.

    "After the [opening] goal, we didn't manage the game well enough," he added. "We didn't have composure or control. It [the dip in performance] was for a long period, which is worrying.

    "We started better in the second half. We had more control, and then we gave the ball away two times for the two goals.

    "The most positive thing is we kept going. They kept believing until the end; that's how we managed to get a point."

    Lacazette, who grabbed that late equaliser, also praised the hosts' character, while paying tribute to the home crowd for providing much-needed energy.

    "At the end, we could draw. The main thing was to avoid the loss," said the French forward, whose last four Premier League goals at the Emirates have all come in London derbies.

    "We wanted to win; we started well but then stopped playing. I think this is something we have to work on in the future. He [Arteta] told us when we play well, the fans are with us. This is what I tried to bring. 

    "When the fans are with us, it gives us players energy. We need to give them what they want. We showed we have character. Even when we are down, we don't give up."

    Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had opened the scoring for Arsenal – the Gunners star netting in three consecutive home Premier League games for the first time since September 2019.

    Since making his Arsenal debut in February 2018, Aubameyang has scored 91 goals in 156 club appearances. The only Premier League players to score more in all competitions during this period are Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (109) and Tottenham forward Harry Kane (99).

  • Ancelotti: Hazard more frustrated than anybody with injuries Ancelotti: Hazard more frustrated than anybody with injuries

    Carlo Ancelotti claimed nobody is more frustrated with Eden Hazard's injury problems than the Belgium international himself.

    Hazard joined Real Madrid from Chelsea in 2019 for a reported €100million (£88.5m), but the former Blues star has endured persistent physical issues since his arrival in the Spanish capital.

    He has managed a full 90 minutes on just four occasions in all competitions for Madrid, scoring just five times in 51 matches, prompting supporters and local media to vent their frustrations with the 30-year-old.

    Hazard, though, has registered five starts this term – making eight appearances in total for his 382 minutes – but that short-term recovery has stuttered again as Ancelotti confirmed he would be without the attacker for the trip to Shakhtar Donetsk.

    Despite the unavailability of the former Lille man, Ancelotti insisted Hazard is the most frustrated by the continuous injury problems after the forward returned from international duty with muscle fatigue.

    "Hazard is tired of having these problems, he isn't injured but he has an overload," Ancelotti said at Monday's pre-match news conference.

    "Nobody is more frustrated than Hazard. I think he will be available against Barcelona or Osasuna."

    Hazard has only recorded one goal and one assist in 799 minutes for Madrid in the Champions League (12 appearances).

    At former club Chelsea, he averaged a goal or assist in the competition every 183 minutes, scoring eight goals and setting up a team-mate eight times in his 38 appearances.

    Ancelotti – without Hazard for Tuesday's visit to Ukraine – will have to rely on his other stars, with young prospects Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde impressing recently to place pressure on Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric.

    The former Milan head coach, however, insisted his experienced trio remain an integral part of his plans as Madrid search for domestic and European glory.

    "I think they [Kroos, Casemiro and Modric] are players who continue to compete at the top level," Ancelotti continued.

    "Then we have a squad with young players like [Antonio] Blanco, Camavinga and Valverde who are pushing them a lot.

    "I have to take into account everyone's age and their experience. We have a midfield that can compete against anyone."

  • Arsenal 2-2 Crystal Palace: Vieira denied on Gunners return by last-gasp Lacazette Arsenal 2-2 Crystal Palace: Vieira denied on Gunners return by last-gasp Lacazette

    Alexandre Lacazette struck a stoppage-time equaliser as Arsenal rescued a point in their 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace.

    The Gunners made the ideal start at Emirates Stadium, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finding the net for a third successive home match to give them an early lead.

    However, Palace hit after the break as Christian Benteke and Odsonne Edouard completed the turnaround on Patrick Vieira's return to his former club.

    But with virtually the last kick of the game, substitute Lacazette fired home a dramatic leveller to stretch the hosts' unbeaten run to six matches in all competitions.

    Arsenal were aiming for a fourth straight home victory and they took the lead after just eight minutes on Monday.

    After an initial corner was overhit, Vicente Guaita did well to push away Nicolas Pepe's curling shot, but Aubameyang was in the right place to volley the rebound into an empty net from close range.

    Seeking a first away win in seven attempts under Vieira, who won three Premier League titles as a Gunner, Palace looked to respond before the break.

    Benteke drilled a low effort straight at Aaron Ramsdale, who also demonstrated brilliant reflexes to tip Conor Gallagher's stoppage-time volley wide.

    But there was no denying Benteke five minutes after the break. Thomas Partey was caught in possession by Jordan Ayew, and former the Liverpool striker skipped away from a challenge before firing home his first goal of the season.

    Arsenal were ruthlessly punished again moments after Guaita brilliantly denied Lacazette, the ball stolen from Albert Sambi Lokonga as Gallagher led a devastating counter before Michael Olise set up Edouard, who beat Ramsdale off the underside of the crossbar.

    However, Palace were denied in the fifth minute of stoppage time, when Lacazette pounced for a dramatic equaliser after Guaita parried Ben White’s initial strike directly into his path.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.