Barcelona now have a game that closes the chapter on their glory. They will win La Liga this season and the history books will show their continued success at winning trophies but this was a night where they were absolutely dominated on the game’s biggest stage.
It was also a performance from them that had been coming. They barely showed up in Milan, never got out of second gear in Paris and when they stuttered in Munich they were absolutely obliterated. One and a half excellent home performances when they got home allowed them to get this far but there will be no further progressing after this stage for Barcelona.
When Thomas Muller, the game’s star performer, made it 4-0 with just under ten minutes to go it was a fitting reminder to the visitors that they best not concentrate on two of the goals being unfairly allowed by the officials. Although they’d have a point, the scoreline absolutely reflected the performances of both sides.
Bayern Munich pressed smartly, passed brilliantly, spread the field intelligently and beat Barcelona in every department. They certainly deserve the credit they will receive but this was a night to focus on the closing of a dynasty.
Barcelona’s six successive semi finals in the Champions League is a remarkable run and their two losses within that came only when two teams, both down to 10-men, shut up shop and stopped them from scoring at the Nou Camp.
For the first time in their great run they were beaten by a team who could do what they set out to do. There will be no comeback this time around.
“I’m drained and I need to fill up. The demand has been very high,” said Pep Guardiola when he announced he was leaving the Barcelona bench during last season. Few disputed his claim and fewer thought of his key players, the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, who might have felt the same way.
The magnificent trio have played together for a number of years but you’d be hard pressed to find a game at any level where they were outplayed like this. Messi was clearly not fit, afraid to step into his stride when he received the ball and regularly dropping deep to lay off a pass and not have to make a run. He simply should not have played but who’d be the coach who would ever not play him if he is telling you he can?
Xavi and Iniesta, two of the greatest players Spain has ever produced, struggled to get any grip on the match but, in truth, were let down by many of their teammates.
No players in world football have played close to the amount of minutes these two footballing masterminds have played in the past six seasons. Those who have followed their careers closely have been waiting for the burnout to hit for sometime. During Euro 2012 some thought their heavy schedule would catch up with them only for Iniesta to be the best player at the tournament and Xavi to takeover the final, leading Spain to a magnificent 4-0 win over Italy.
The pair, who have each claimed an incredible 17 winners medals in the last five seasons, have had some incredible highs in this great game but tonight they fly back to Barcelona demoralized with images stuck in their head from one of the biggest lows of their sparkling careers.
At 33, Xavi, surely a future Barcelona manager, will know only too well what went wrong and what will be needed to make sure this is not repeated. Javier Mascherano is a fine player but should never have been the only recognizable centre-back in the squad when (and not if) Carles Puyol was injured. Starting a 22-year-old centre back in Bartra in a monumental match wasn’t a risk, it was idiotic. He is certainly no Raphael Varane.
It is time for Barcelona to stop playing roulette with the art of defending and go get any of Mats Hummels, Daniel Agger or Laurent Koscielny. Comfortable on the ball is an important requirement, of course, but a defender who is simply good in the air, who can take command from set pieces is essential. If he is a world class defender there is a pretty good chance he is decent technically. Look at Puyol, for example.
And this is where the Barcelona’s philosophy has to be tested and pressed. They have lost some smart football minds in the last two years – do not underestimate the loss of Txiki Begiristain – and it is time for them to reinvent themselves while sticking to their principals. 4-3-3 and the art of treasuring the ball will never change but for them to move forward they simply have to recruit better. While they wasted money on Alex Song, Bayern went in their backyard and found Javi Martinez. For an iconic club like Barcelona that cannot happen again.
Dani Alves has become a massive problem. His link up with Pedro on the right in Munich was admirable for the first quarter of the match but after that it just became suicidal. Bayern exploited their wide areas all game long and Alves not once, even at 3-0 down, looked like a right back. With the excellent Jordi Alba on the left, Barcelona need a defensive minded right back who has the ability to pick his moments when he goes forward, instead of a right back who regularly leaves gaps the size of parking lots behind him. On this night poor Bartra never stood a chance playing next to the Brazilian.
Barcelona will be back but absolutely must learn some key lessons after being taken to school by Bayern in this first leg. While Xavi and Co spend the next few months thinking ahead any one who loves football should take some time and think back at what this team and their greatest players have achieved. Some called them the greatest team to ever play the game. Whether they were or not they, along with their national team, led a passing revolution that changed the game and forced others to be better.
Without Barcelona’s performances in the last six seasons, Bayern Munich do not produce a performance like this tonight. The lines have met each other once again on the circle of footballing life.
Every dynasty comes to an end eventually, the best ones are the ones who pave the way for others to continue their way.