Barcelona humiliated, relegated to the Europa League then beaten by Bayern

The Barcelona players sat under the Camp Nou stand and watched their Champions League campaign come to an end, then rushed onto the pitch and demonstrated some of the reasons why. Already knocked out at the start of this game, witnessing a last, tiny extinguished hope on television where Internazionale beat Viktoria Plzen at the start of the kick-off, they couldn’t even have a little fun before to say goodbye, nor leave much to remember them by. by. Instead, they head to the Europa League with a 3-0 defeat, their sixth in a row against Bayern Munich. Aggregate score: 19-2.

Who knows: maybe if it had counted, it would have been different. Maybe watching their own execution just before wasn’t the best idea either: “Getting knocked out before the match affected us,” Xavi said. And it’s also Bayern, a “super team” in their own words. But in the end, Barcelona caused their own demise, leaving the feeling that this level is still beyond them, so soft are their bellies. “We are a young team and we don’t have enough to compete in the Champions League yet,” said Pedri.

“You learn by taking the hits, and that’s a big hit,” Xavi said.

Bayern were better in everything, he admitted. If there was pride at stake, a point to prove, it didn’t often show. It’s not that Bayern destroyed them exactly, although they competed, more than they faded. Goals from Sadio Mané and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting were already enough before Benjamin Pavard added another with the very last touch.

Barcelona hadn’t managed a single shot on target. Even when Robert Lewandowski thought he had a penalty before half-time, he didn’t, with the ball taken from him outright, Anthony Taylor consulting VAR and deciding he had dived – which spoke of frustration, powerlessness that defined them. He too, unable to score in the two meetings with his former club.

In any case it was already done, confirmation of what Barcelona had known since the start of the day: that their fate would be decided on a distant ground. Or, perhaps more accurately, had already been, even then. That said, on this evidence, having it in his hands wouldn’t have been better.

Barcelona players show their disappointment.
Barcelona players show their disappointment. They were beaten 3-0 by Bayern Munich but already knew their fate before the game. Photography: Soccrates Images/Getty Images

In Munich and Milan, Barcelona had moments but were beaten, those defeats followed by an error-strewn 3-3 draw with Inter that left Barcelona facing the abyss and Xavi labeling the competition a “cruel”. They needed to win their two remaining games and needed Inter not to win any of theirs.

“Hope is the last thing you lose,” Xavi had said, but it was the first.

Inter faced the team that had lost all four matches and conceded 16, Barcelona players called to watch it together. It was not a great motivation: before half-time, the Italians had two leads; exactly when Barcelona ran out to warm up, they scored their fourth. It was over, they knew. Time for the second level of Europe.

Xavi tried to avoid the word failure but the Europa League is not where Barcelona are supposed to be. Not the place they budgeted for either – let alone for a second season in a row. The last manager to take charge of the UEFA Cup for two consecutive years here was Terry Venables. If last year was a reflection of their reality – “it is what it is”, in the words of Gerard Pique – it was supposed to be different, which hurt more.

Barcelona certainly can’t afford it. At a time when every euro counts, this early exit costs around 20 million, plus the ripple effects.

There is also an emotional element: the (very) famous levers pulled, the multiple signatures made and the assets sold were a risk intended to start a virtuous circle. Instead, Barcelona were knocked out earlier than ever in 24 years, with one game to go. Two games, in fact.

They couldn’t enjoy the first of those either, or offer hope for the future, Serge Gnabry slipping the knife. Barely nine minutes had passed when he pulled Mané away from Héctor Bellerín to score the opener and on the half-hour he did it again, rolling the ball into Choupo-Moting to score. On the kill he hit a volley which Pavard turned for the third and his third assist. Gnabry had thought he had marked one of his own earlier, only to be sent off, but that didn’t matter. In the end, none of this was done, before it started.

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