Almost 13 months after this historic 8-2 break in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona and Bayern Munich were back – this time for the blockbuster matchday 1 Group E of the 2021/22 season of the tournament.
A few things changed after that, most notably for Barcelona, who took on new coach Ronald Koeman, left Lionel Messi and made some other notable departures, including those of Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann, who both went to Atlético Madrid.
Bayern’s core squad remained relatively unchanged, with key defenders Jérôme Boateng and David Alaba leaving, while RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer came along with new coach Julian Nagelsmann.
Nevertheless, old wounds remained intact, and a great battle was to take place in Barcelona. The 22 key contestants were named an hour earlier, as always, and there was even more excitement in the hosts’ camp as they used a three center-back system for the first time this season.
Six of the starters from this historic quarter-finals kept their places while the rest were either no longer Barcelona players or, in the case of Clément Lenglet, were injured. Bayern, meanwhile, kept seven of their players from that game along with their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
As a result, almost half of the men on the pitch were different in that game and both coaches had new coaches, but most of the key issues in this game seemed all too familiar. Bayern continued to dominate with and without the ball, while Barça repeatedly caused their own problems and looked miles away from the opponent in all aspects of the game.
The only real differences this time around were that not every semi-dangerous Bayern shot went, while Barcelona somehow managed to look even more toothless in attack – not even registering a single shot on goal.
Tactical problems weren’t the biggest problem for the home side that night, but they did exist – especially defensively. They mostly sat in a 5-3-2 center block …
… But he wanted to go high when Bayern had the ball in their own penalty area. However, there were major problems with its structure.
Ronald Koeman was initially reluctant to push his full-backs too high for fear of getting caught, especially on the right where Alphonso Davies was superior to Sergi Roberto, both technically and in terms of speed. (Funnily enough, Davies seemed to be Bayern’s favorite sales anyway). Second, Bayern managed to easily create numerical overloads in the middle of the park by asking one of their attackers to fall deep when Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka were tagged by Pedri and Frenkie de Jong.
All of this added to the total disaster of a high block where Barcelona barely cut a pass option and incessantly conceded post-move changes where Bayern’s superior individual qualities were in the limelight.
So many such attacks have been admitted that we could go on dissecting them all day, so it’s best if we keep going.
In the pressing phase, the difference in tactical class was highlighted most strongly – while Koeman’s team struggled to close even the Bayern midfielders, Julian Nagelsmann easily captured Barcelona deep in their own half.
The German champions turned the ball around 17 times in Barcelona’s half-time and pushed the opponent close to their own goal.
This is basically the pattern throughout the following game – Barcelona don’t play from behind and either lose the ball in a dangerous situation or more often it pokes long, Bayern then circulate in the back before easily slicing through their hosts and rinsing and repeat.
In truth, at best, visitors hardly came out of second aisle, but they just didn’t have to. Everything they did – push high on the pitch, play through Barcelona’s defense, or even combine in the final third – seemed so incredibly effortless that it could easily be mistaken for a training session.
If anything, this game only showed exactly how far the mighty have fallen in the case of Barcelona and that this 8-2 maul was not a bad day in the office, but was long overdue. Worse, the Catalan giants still seem to be descending the ever treacherous slope, and it is incredibly difficult to say when, or even if, they will ever climb those glorious heights they once showed the world.
Sergio Agüero once uttered the words “other sauce” during his time at Manchester City, and that perfectly reflects Barcelona’s position as opposed to the truly elite clubs in the world at the moment. Your current sauce is irrevocably poisoned, so your only hope may be to cook a new one.
Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.