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Messi and Barcelona at lowest ebb since Champions League destruction by Bayern
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14-Aug-2020, 02:09 pm

Messi and Barcelona at lowest ebb since Champions League destruction by Bayern


Lionel Messi Robert Lewandowski Quique Setien Barcelona Bayern Munich GFX

When Bayern Munich were crowned champions of Europe in 2013 it told not only a tale of their great strength, but also one of Barcelona’s weakness.

The Catalans were left bruised and battered after a 7-0 semi-final drubbing over two legs by the Bavarians, humiliated and badly needing a reset. Now, as they prepare to face Bayern again in Europe’s premier competition, they are at their lowest ebb since that brutal destruction.

The only two remaining sides in the draw that have won the Champions League before butt heads in Lisbonin the quarter-finals on Friday. The difference between then and now is that Barcelona have Lionel Messi, which they didn’t in the second leg of that 2013 defeat, and this game is a one-off clash which augments their slim chances of progression.

In 2013 Jupp Heynckes side crushed their opponents, first at the Allianz Arena and then in Spain, 4-0 and 3-0 respectively, exposing Barcelona’s fragility post-Pep Guardiola. The legendary tactician parted ways with the club at the end of the previous season and had already been announced as Bayern’s successor to Heynckes for the following campaign.

Pep watched his next club inflict his former club’s worst European defeat since 1997 in the first leg. The late Tito Vilanova opted to start Messi in the away game even though he was patently unfit, rolling the dice and losing. He wasn’t even able to feature in the return.

By that point there was little point anyway.

Domestically that season Vilanova’s side dominated, winning their 22nd title, 15 points ahead of Real Madrid, hitting the 100-point mark. His own season had been disrupted by two cancer diagnoses and, after surgery and chemotherapy, he missed the first three months of 2013 before resigning at the end of the campaign.

Antagonist Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid won the league the season before and Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid the year after, against Barcelona at Camp Nou on the final day, making this a particularly bad patch in Barcelona’s recent history.

Then came Luis Enrique and the MSN trident - Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez - and Barcelona struck gold again. The team’s remarkable treble in 2014-15 was won in a different style to under Guardiola but it was worthy of immense merit, which perhaps it didn’t get at the time.

They were a team that could roll with the punches, go end-to-end and be confident of outscoring opponents with their terrifying strike force. Messi had the team-mates he needed and deserved.

Ivan Rakitic dazzled in midfield, not in the same way as those who were clocking out - Xavi and Andres Iniesta - but in a way that worked for the modern game. Good with the ball but even better without it.

That side came apart at the seams when Paris Saint-Germain ripped Neymar away for €222 million ($264m/£202m) in 2017 and Barcelona’s board burnt that sumand much more on players who have failed to deliver - Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele for starters.

Another attempt to put together a front three to equal the trident has failed, with Antoine Griezmann looking out of place on the left and Suarez a shadow of his former self.

The Uruguayan and others left from the 2015 side which beat Juventus in the Berlin final to lift the trophy for the fifth time - the same total as Bayern - are nearly all worse than they were.

Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba are still good players but not at their very best level, Rakitic has shrivelled in importance, while Sergio Busquets no longer controls games. Even Messi, who is still phenomenal and still the world’s best player, has lost some of his pace and dynamism at 33.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen is the one player who has categorically improved, with the sublime goalkeeper looking to prove a point in his homeland as he takes on Bayern and the incumbent German national team goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

Those who have left have not been adequately replaced due to a succession of poor transfer deals. Iniesta started the final in 2015 but his replacement, Coutinho, was sent on loan to Bayern this season after flopping badly at Camp Nou.

Dembele, Neymar’s replacement, may have emulated the Brazilian’s capacity to cause problems off the pitch but on it hasn’t been a patch on his predecessor. Dani Alves was replaced by Nelson Semedo but the Portuguese right-back could leave the club after not nailing down the spot in a battle with Sergi Roberto.

Quique Setien at the helm is a coach picked more for his theoretical style than any previous results and even that possession-based game he likes to play quickly disappeared as he realised that results were essential. Without that, what is the point of him?

Back in 2013 Barcelona’s biggest worries seemed to come from outside the club, with Mourinho causing havoc, but now the enemy is within.

The Catalans can’t blame Real Madrid for the state the club finds itself in, they have done this to themselves. Now Barcelona are more like the side that was sliced to ribbons in 2013 than the self-assured team which dissected Bayern themselves in the 2015 semi-finals.

Messi struck twice and Neymar added the third in a brutal flurry at the end of the tight first leg at Camp Nou, two great teams that could not be separated prised apart by the genius of Barcelona’s No 10.

The Argentine turned Jerome Boateng into an everlasting meme as Barca scored a 3-0 win and followed it up with a 3-2 defeat in Bavaria - Neymar grabbed a brace - to qualify comfortably.


Source : goal.com

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