Football Features

‘The most devastating defeat in Champions League history’ – Five things learned from Bayern Munich 8-2 Barcelona

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:35, 14 August 2020

In a historic night of football, Bayern Munich absolutely devastated Barcelona 8-2 in Lisbon.

The German side won each half 4-1, absolutely terrorising a hapless looking Blaugrana as they qualified for the semi-finals.

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1. Muller is a monster

All the build-up to the game was focused on Leo Messi and Robert Lewandowski but the real MVP of the night and arguably the key to the way the entire Bayern side works was and is Thomas Muller. The German ended the night with two goals and one assist and the Blaugrana just never even got close to dealing with his movement.

And that’s the most important thing against side’s as defensively ropey as Barcelona: movement. Even underperforming defenders can generally do okay 1v1 (well, maybe not Nelson Semedo) but when you have people moving off the ball like Muller does, then unless you’re really on it you can lose track of him and suddenly bang… he’s killed you.

His first two goals, two of Bayern’s opening four, were absolutely ruthless in their exploitation of movement. And then Muller’s other incredible attribute is his attitude. In the post-match press conference he repeatedly said “the semi-final starts 0-0” and refused to get carried away despite their history win, adding: “we are not here to win the quarter-final and semi-final we are here to win the final.”

On the pitch and off it, Thomas Muller is a monster and every Bayern opponents’ worst nightmare.

2. The power of change

In late 2019, Barcelona and Bayern Munich both looked pretty ordinary. Their managers (Ernesto Valverde and Niko Kovac) were struggling to get their squads to perform and in the end, both managers got sacked and replaced. Bayern moved first, allowing assistant Hanse Flick to take over. Whilst Barcelona conducted a thorough if disorganised search and ended up with Quique Setién.

Bayern allegedly signed Flick to be Kovac’s assistant with the idea in mind that he could replace Kovac if need be. Barcelona, meanwhile, had no such contingency for Valverde’s replacement even though the Spaniard had failed miserably at the tail-end of 2018/19. Their search to replace him saw them approach about five different coaches, being rebuffed every time, before settling on Quique Setién. A coach that fit on paper but had never handled players the stature of the Blaugrana’s before.

The results? Bayern have been superhuman with Flick in charge, marching their way to a domestic double and into a Champions League semi-final. Barcelona, meanwhile, have played marginally better football but still have all the exact same flaws and are probably, on the whole, even worse in defence. What that led to is what we saw tonight.

3. Barcelona’s chickens come home en massé

Barcelona’s mismanagement of their squad was probably best exemplified by their €120m summer signing Antoine Griezmann starting the game on the bench alongside their other €100m signing Ousmane Dembélé (who to be fair is just back from injury). Meanwhile Barcelona’s third €100m man was also on the bench… for Bayern Munich. And he then came off the bench. And scored. Twice. And got an assist.

A squad that was already strangely built has been staggeringly wasteful since 2017 when Neymar left the club, taking enormous risks with club record fees and failing horribly. And that has left them coming into this game with an average age of 29 and only one starter under the age of 25 (Frenkie de Jong). All the young talent and pace was on the bench, Riqui Puig never even played a minute. All that money wasted by a board you wouldn’t trust to run to the shops with 50p, let alone run a football club with hundreds of millions.

Their defence was horrible, their midfield was Frenkie de Jong trying desperately trying to fight Bayern all by himself (meanwhile Bayern’s best midfielder was someone Barcelona sold for €25m back in 2013) and in attack it was an insulting lack of pace. The brilliance of Luis Suárez’s goal, a throwback to his former days when he was the world’s best striker, was almost insulting given how stark it contrasted with every other second of the Uruguayan’s horrific, toothless display.

So that’s poor at the back, weak in midfield and slow up-front. The final nail in the coffin was Marc-André Ter Stegen, Barcelona’s world-class goalkeeper who has so often bailed them out this season finally caving under the immense expectation and pressure placed on him. Ter Stegen began this Champions League season with a masterclass against fellow Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, but over the course of the campaign he has been worn down and worn down and tonight against Bayern he was just as objectionable as everyone else, letting a whopping eight goals fly past him.

What summed the result up more? Coutinho’s two goals and one assist for a club who doesn’t want him against a club who paid €120m for him and also doesn’t want him? Or the hideous performance of Arturo Vidal even as he was picked over Riqui Puig? Or the full-back shambles? Or Ter Stegen’s capitulation? The attack’s complete an utter lack of pace? Every Barcelona flaw that has been building up since 2015 coalesced tonight into the most devastating defeat in Champions League history.

This wasn’t so much chickens coming home to roost as chickens going feral and tearing the farmers limb from limb with savage intensity. Barcelona were butchered in style, like a meat on Salt Bae’s instagram. Nothing could really sum up just how devastating this defeat was more than Leo Messi doubled over, staring at his boots and knowing that even he in all his infinite footballing power could do nothing to make this Barcelona side coherent or competitive. And when you’re beyond even Messi, you’re beyond all hope.

4. No Country For Old Defenders

Everyone knows how bad Barcelona’s defence was. They played two right-backs and both of them were white hot garbage, Jordi Alba got two assists but defensively was a colossal liability and whilst Gerard Piqué and Clement Lenglet fought the good fight even they eventually fell to pieces. Barcelona conceded eight goals in a single game for the first time since 1946.

But just as notable as Barcelona being absolutely useless, Bayern Munich were just as ropey at the back. Okay perhaps not just as, but the German side spent the first-half more or less trading blows with the worst Barcelona side for well over a decade.

If the Blaugrana had any sort of pace in attack the first-half would have ended something like 4-4. David Alaba panicked repeatedly when asked to deal with simple crosses, scoring a own goal. In the second-half a past-it Luis Suárez stitched Jerome Boateng up easily to score. Every time Barcelona went forward in the first 50-60 minutes it looks like they could do damage, which is absurd when you think about it.

If Manchester City can get past Lyon, they will be licking their lips at the prospects of facing Bayern. Not that they’re a defensive powerhouse themselves, but unlike Barcelona they have what it takes in attack to hurt the miserable Bavarian defence.

5. Bayern show that Speed Kills

Bayern Munich are a side bristling with pace and they put it on full display every chance they get. Every player besides perhaps Jerome Boateng and Robert Lewandowski can really motor, and that was perhaps the defining characteristic of their performance: Speed.

Bayern were quicker to every 50/50. Every time the ball span loose it was a Bayern player who was fastest to react. In the wide areas no Barcelona player could outsprint anyone. And whilst Alphonso Davies didn’t really keep Messi quiet, the way he torched Nelson Semedo to set-up Bayerns’ fifth goal was perhaps the most perfect illustration of how Bayern were too quick in body and mind. Semedo is not slow, but he looked like he was running in treacle because the relentlessness of Bayern’s speed had worn him down.

Barcelona have long been a side that have shunned pace. It cost them in the Champions League in 2018, 2019 and now 2020. The lack of speed surrounding Messi was and is shocking and served as a stark contrast to the speed of the Bayern Munich side. 28 games unbeaten, nine straight wins. A team that is fast of mind, fast of body, and just kills opponents with pure speed.