Barcelona’s Champions League exit sealed before Bayern loss
Xavi Hernandez’s side went into the match knowing they already had no chance of reaching the knockout round for the second year in a row after Internazionale beat Viktoria Plzen 4-0 in the early window on Monday.
First-half goals from Sadio Mane and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and stoppage-time header from Benjamin Pavard saw Bayern clinch top spot in Group C on 15 points with one game to play, while Inter Milan finish second. Barcelona, who will finish third regardless of results on the final matchday, are headed for the Europa League.
Wednesday’s results are another setback for the Catalan club and could prove costlier than last season as the team went on a spending spree in the summer to boost their squad in the hope of recovering some of that money with a deep run in European competition.
1. Barcelona play flat after Champions League exit sealed
With Inter Milan’s win over Viktoria Plzen earlier on Wednesday, Barcelona knew their Champions League hopes were over for another season and they played like a team in mourning at times against Bayern. Despite Xavi Hernandez’s insistence ahead of the game that this was a chance to show Barca can compete on the biggest stage, they once again failed to deliver against one of Europe’s best, as was the case in the recent Clasico defeat to Real Madrid.
Barca will and already have bemoaned missed chances in Munich, refereeing decisions in Milan and individual errors in the 3-3 draw against Inter, but the fact of the matter is they have not been good enough across their five matches in the Champions League season. That they have just four points is a reflection of that.
You cannot defend as they did against Bayern. The ease with which Sadio Mane and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting found the net will have angered Xavi. It felt as if Bayern could have gone up a few more gears, too. Only a last-ditch block from Hector Bellerin and a fine save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen kept out a third before the break. Serge Gnabry, the creator of all three goals, had another ruled out for offside before an unmarked Benjamin Pavard added the third from a stoppage-time set-play.
Barca, meanwhile, for all their passing, huffing and puffing, never really tested Bayern’s stand-in goalkeeper Sven Ulreich. The closest they came to a goal was an overturned penalty for a Matthijs de Ligt challenge on Robert Lewandowski, who was once again forced to endure a painful night against the side he left for €45 million in the summer.
2. Focus to win Europa League, LaLiga for Barcelona
Barca invested over €150m in the squad in the summer after selling club assets with the objective of reaching the latter stages of the Champions League. With that now not possible, how do they regroup from here?
The main focus now becomes LaLiga. They have started well, despite that defeat to Madrid, and are just three points off the top after 11 games and just one defeat. With a much-improved squad, the league’s top scorer in Lewandowski and an emerging crop of young talent, led by Pedri and Gavi, they should run Carlo Ancelotti’s side close.
However, they are certainly not favourites at the moment and Xavi has even said if he does not win a trophy this season, he knows he could be replaced. That leaves the Europa League, where they will be the favourites, although they know the perils of Europe’s secondary competition having fallen unexpectedly to Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarterfinal last season. Then there is the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Supercopa. It is not what they dreamed of in the summer when they unveiled Lewandowski, Raphinha and Jules Kounde, but there is still plenty of room for improvement on last season’s trophy-less campaign.
There does seem to be some patience from the supporters. Having club legend Xavi as the figurehead of the project helps and an average attendance of over 80,000 at Camp Nou this season shows there is a connection. There were 84,016 for the Bayern loss and those that stayed until the end did not stop signing.
3. Bayern Munich show why they’re a benchmark
Bayern are one of the benchmarks for where Xavi wants to take his Barca side. They are also the team Barca must be most sick of facing. This was their sixth win in a row against the Catalans, a run which stretches back to 2015 and includes an 8-2 and three 3-0s, and their 11th in 15 official meetings.
Their performance at Camp Nou was as professional as it comes. With their place in the last-16 already assured, they still played as if there was something riding on the game as they wrapped up top spot ahead of their final game at home to Inter, where they will look to make it six wins from six from what some described as the competition’s hardest group.
This win was all the more impressive considering they were without Manuel Neuer, Lucas Hernandez and Leroy Sane through injury, while Thomas Muller was only deemed fit for a second-half cameo. Still, with talent like Mane, Gnabry and Jamal Musiala, they remain one of the teams to be feared in Europe, even if Union Berlin are still keeping them off the top of the Bundesliga for now.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen 6; Bellerin 4, Kounde 5, Alonso 5, Balde 6; Busquets 6, De Jong 6, Kessie 5, Pedri 6; Dembele 6, Lewandowski 6
Subs: Raphinha 5, Torres 5, Garcia 5, Ansu 5, Torre 5
Bayern Munich: Ulreich 6; Mazraoui 7, Upamecano 6, de Ligt 7, Davies 6; Kimmich 7, Goretza 6; Gnabry 9, Musiala 8, Mane 8; Choupo-Moting 7
Subs: Sabitzer 6, Muller 6, Pavard 6, Gravenberch 6, Stanisic 5
Best and worst performers
BEST: Serge Gnabry, Bayern Munich.
Created Bayern’s first two goals brilliantly and only a minimal offside prevented him adding a third in the second half. Complete a hat-trick of assists late on.
WORST: Hector Bellerin, Barcelona.
Given the tough task of marking Mane on his first start since Sept. 10 following his return from injury. Lost him for the first goal and then played Choupo-Moting onside for the second. Did make a great block later in the first half and never gave up, but it was a difficult night for the former Arsenal man.
Highlights and notable moments
Oh Mane, Mane. Took out the wind of an already subdued Camp Nou crowd with his early goal.
SADIO MANE QUIETS THE CAMP NOU! 🤫 pic.twitter.com/tca0VMMI7A
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 26, 2022
Before kickoff, a tweet from Inter Milan is certainly won’t include Barcelona.
RETWEET IF YOUR CLUB HAS QUALIFIED FOR THE #UCL ROUND OF 16 😁
— Inter (@Inter_en) October 26, 2022
But at least the Catalans are getting a warm Europa welcome.
Welcome back @FCBarcelona 🤗
— UEFA Europa League 🕙 (@Differential_PL) October 26, 2022
After the match: What the managers, players said
Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez after the match: “We were not at Bayern’s level today. They were better. In Munich we were ourselves, but today they were better, intense. The elimination before the game affected us psychologically. Now we train again tomorrow and think about LaLiga. There were a lot of expectations but we got a tough group. All sorts has happened to us in the group stage. It’s been cruel on us, but we did not compete well today.”
Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen on result: “Disappointment. We didn’t lose it today but the moment in general right now is painful. One of the objectives was to stay in the Champions League. Now we have to focus on what is to come in LaLiga.
Obviously knowing we were already out had an influence. It was a strange feeling. It was more a pride issue, but we could not match Bayern tonight. They scored goals at key moments and we could not compete.”
Barcelona’s Pedri on knowing fate beforehand: “You don’t go into the game with the same motivation [after the Inter win]. We wanted to give the fans a win but it was not to be. We owe these supporters a lot. They have always been with us. We owe them wins and trophies. I hope we can give them to them from now.
We are a young team with a lot of room to improve. We have to improve a lot. We are not yet there to compete in the Champions League. It is really disappointing what’s happened today. Seeing what we’ve seen, it’s clear we are not yet ready to compete [at the top level].”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– After 17 straight seasons of reaching the knockout stages of Champions League, Barcelona are set to miss on consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1997-98 and 1998-99 campaigns.
– Take heed, cules. Barcelona are already the favorite to win the UEFA Europa League with a 27% chance, according to FivethirtyEight’s SPI.
– Bayern have won six straight matches against Barcelona, tying them with Espanyol‘s streak from 1940-42. The longest winning streak over Barcelona was Real Madrid’s seven-game stretch from 1962-65.
– Overall a disappointing Champions League showing from LaLiga clubs. With Real Madrid moving on but Sevilla and Atletico Madrid also failing to reach the last-16, this will be the first time since 1998-99 that Spain will not have multiple teams in knockout stage. That year, only eight teams made it to the knockout stage, with Real also being the sole representative.
Barcelona: Back to LaLiga action against a rising Valencia squad on Saturday. After that, a Tuesday trip to Viktoria Plzen in hopes of ending a disappointing Champions League campaign on a high note.
Bayern Munich: Up next will be a Bundesliga match on Saturday hosting Mainz. Then they’ll aim to keep their sterling Champions League group-stage record with the final match of the round against Inter Milan on Tuesday.
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