Exactly 13 months after Barcelona suffered ultimate humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich, the Blaugrana welcomed Die Roten to the Camp Nou to open Group E play in the Champions League. Based solely on scores, Barcelona improved by three goals, but it looked so much worse in doing so. At one point, Serge Gnabry took pity on his defender and kicked the ball out of bounds.
Bayern Munich outmuscled Barcelona for a 3-0 victory on Tuesday, scoring five goals fewer than the unforgettable 8-2 in the 2020 quarterfinals. While the final score wasn’t as sexy for the Germans, the truth is their opponents are a greatly diminished side from the last time these two met.
Thomas Müller opened the scoring with a deflected goal before Robert Lewandowski scored twice in the second half, giving him 10 goals already this season. Barcelona was saved the embarrassment of conceding eight, but I’d argue this was a worse performance.
This Barcelona is barely recognizable from the one that took the pitch at the Estadio da Luz on Aug. 14, 2020. Gone are Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Ivan Rakitić, Antoine Griezmann, Arturo Vidal and Nelson Semedo. Replacing them is the ragtag bunch of Memphis Depay, Luuk de Jong, Sergiño Dest and a bunch of youngsters. Ronaldo Koeman’s current group has done fine this season in LaLiga, but up against its biggest task yet, the players were clearly outmatched. Meanwhile, Bayern has continued to raid the Bundesliga for talent, adding the likes of Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer.
On Tuesday, Barcelona played more pragmatically than that night two years ago; rarely did more than a handful of players push forward at the same time. The result was fewer goals flying past Marc-André ter Stegen but hardly any attacking threat on the other end. In fact, Barcelona failed to record a shot on target, compared to seven for Bayern.
The result was a straightforward Bayern victory that never really looked in doubt. Late in the match with the score 2-0, Gnabry played the ball out of bounds when he saw his defender, Jordi Alba, was ailing, allowing a substitution to be made. Alba was struggling, but hadn’t gone down; nonetheless, Gnabry made the sporting move to the chagrin of his teammates, probably aware his team had the three points all but secured.
"He's probably thinking we were so good not so long ago. Where have all my friends gone?" ☠️ pic.twitter.com/mHrklpnHwm
Barcelona vs Bayern Munich Highlights (Champions League Group Stage, Sept. 14, 2021)
Müller opened the scoring a day after his 32nd birthday. His long-range shot took a huge deflection off the butt of Eric García, but they all count the same.
Monday: celebrates 32nd birthday
Tuesday: scores against BarcelonaA good start to the week for @esmullert_ pic.twitter.com/AVFySuL140
— UCL on Paramount+ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 14, 2021
Lewandowski made it 2-0 early in the second half. Jamal Musiala, who was excellent in his 70 minutes, had his shot carom off the post right to Lewandowski, who was never going to miss.
WHO OTHER THAN ROBERT LEWANGOALSKI? pic.twitter.com/DahAkUS2tl
Lewandowski put the game away with the 85th minute with his 75th Champions League goal, again collecting the ball after a shot hit the post to put Barcelona out of its misery.
ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI WITH HIS 75TH #UCL GOAL pic.twitter.com/zAgA4HLYGg
By final score alone, Barcelona improved by three goals. By eye test and just common sense, this Barcelona side is miles away from that Barça side of two years ago. This year, the Blaugrana will be lucky to get out of the group stages let alone reach the quarterfinals.