Bayern beating shows Barcelona without Lionel Messi could be hard to stomach

It’s not often you describe Barca as average, but they were underwhelming and flat in a match in which they didn’t appear to believe that victory was possible
Bayern beating shows Barcelona without Lionel Messi could be hard to stomach

Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller celebrates his goal during the Champions League first round group E match against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. Picture: Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images

Barcelona 0 Bayern Munich 3

It's early days but Barcelona without Messi feels like pa amb tomàquet without the tomatoes; the basic ingredient has gone and it’s going to take a very special recipe to convince us it will ever be the same again.

Watching Barca huff and puff against Bayern Munich in their opening Champions League game in Group E left you with an uncomfortable feeling as Robert Lewandowski scored twice and Thomas Muller once in a routine victory for the German champions.

There were still some high-quality players on show, the club's proud history will always be in the air and the passion of Catalonia is unquestioned; but there was a magician missing on the field and without him it just doesn’t feel the same.

It’s not often you describe Barca as average, but they were underwhelming and flat in a match in which they didn’t appear to believe that victory was possible.

Ronald Koeman’s side didn’t have a shot on target in the first half and got no better after the break as Bayern won without even moving into second gear.

Muller’s opening goal after 34 minutes was fortunate, taking a big deflection, Lewandowski's first in the second half, tapping home after the exciting teenager Jamal Musiala hit the bar, was almost inevitable given the pattern of play. And his composed finish in the 85th minute, goal number 75 in the Champions League, underlined why keeping your star player is so important, not least because it meant he had scored in 18 matches in a row in all competitions.

By contrast, this was our first real chance to see just how much losing Messi would impact Barca’s ambitions for the season - and the verdict isn’t good.

Even the famous tiki-taka football seems to have been jettisoned, with the home side’s greatest threat coming from set pieces; and when they desperately needed a hero you only had to glance at the bench to know there wasn’t one sitting there.

There are, of course, a lot of reasons behind the slump, because to say it has been a difficult summer for the Catalan side is possibly the biggest understatement in football. It has been a disaster.

Financial mismanagement, a chastening defeat in the battle to set up a Super League, a long-running battle with La Liga over salary caps – and a string of heroes leaving the Camp Nou at the time of year when superstars normally arrive.

The sight of Messi playing in a Paris St Germain shirt, even though he wanted to stay and had agreed to take a pay cut, sums up exactly where the club is right now and they seem to be dogged with bad luck, too.

Last weekend’s game against Seville was postponed because of players returning late from international duty, meaning they faced the German champions having not kicked a ball in anger since 29 August, and there have also been a string of unfortunate injuries.

Koeman’s side took to the field without Sergio Aguero, Martin Braithwaite, Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati, and were also missing Antoine Griezmann and Emerson Royal for very different reasons - both players having been sold since they helped scramble a 2-1 victory over Getafe.

That left new emergency loan signing Luuk de Jong, the former Newcastle man who failed to score in 12 league games at St James’ Park, up front on his debut. Quite a comedown from the glory days.

The old school of Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique are still there at least, whilst midfielder Pedri - as we saw at Euro 2020 - is a fantastic young talent and Memphis Depay, signed on a free transfer in the summer, could be a shining light in a very dark transfer window.

He wasn’t on this occasion, however, as Bayern dominated the match without even moving out of second gear.

The last time these sides met, in an empty stadium in 2020, it ended in a chastening 8-2 defeat for Barca, perhaps the lowest point in their recent history until the Messi debacle.

It wasn’t that bad this time, but for Barcelona fans it was just as depressing - especially when Jordi Alba limped off late on to add to their injury worries.

Barca also have Benfica and Dynamo Kyiv to play in Group E and you have to say that nothing is guaranteed if they don't improve significantly on this performance.

The sight of four teenagers from La Masia on the pitch at the end was at least a ray of hope as home fans at least cheered to the bitter end. But that is clutching at straws.

This Barcelona side, without its talisman, is average fare - and watching Messi in PSG colours against Club Brugge on Wednesday is going to be hard to stomach.

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