Bayern Munich gave Barcelona a brutal demonstration of just how far their opponents have fallen by winning 3-0 in the Champions League on Tuesday, with Robert Lewandowski scoring twice in a defeat at the Nou Camp.
Without Lionel Messi for a first European campaign since 2003, Barca were outplayed by Bayern, who may have scored more but eventually settled for three thanks to Thomas Mueller’s deflected opener and Lewandowski’s double.
When Lewandowski made it two to four, the possibility of another humiliation in the form of last year’s 8-2 defeat by the same opponents in Lisbon felt very real.
Instead, Bayern may have delivered an even louder message about the divide in the class by calming down in the final stages, when Barça fans expressed anger, dismay and finally a sense of resignation.
“It is what it is,” said Gerard Pique. “We are what we are, that’s the reality.”
“We could have done better,” said Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann.
Barcelona failed to collect a single shot at goal, made fewer passes – once almost unheard of in the Camp Nou – and have now conceded 10 goals in their last three European homes.
Sergi Roberto was at the end of the loudest whistles from the home fans and it was impossible not to wonder if the criticism stemmed in part from disappointment at his lack of progress on the right wing, where Messi once created so much.
“They (the whistles) hurt me a lot because I know him, he’s a spectacular person,” said Pique. “And people need to remember that he’s not a winger.”
Ronald Koeman’s own position has come under scrutiny in recent weeks and his 5-3-2 formation, which defies Barcelona’s attacking traditions, will not have strengthened his hand.
But the bottom line here was the lack of quality in Barcelona’s line-up – after their turbulent summer of sales – which was inferior to Bayern’s in every department.
“Obviously we wanted to compete better, but it’s what we have,” Koeman said. “I can’t fault the players’ commitment.”
Mueller now has seven goals in six games against the Catalans, while Lewandowski has scored in 18 consecutive games.
Nagelsmann’s strong start continues with a sixth win in a row, but Bayern will face tougher Champions League resistance than this, perhaps even in Group E, where Benfica and Dynamo Kyiv started with a draw.
In true underdog fashion, Barca flew into Bayern early on, eager to physically impress an opponent they might have known would be technically superior.
The crowd also joined in and cheered when Luuk de Jong outsmarted Alphonso Davies and held off Sergi Roberto Dayot Upamecano.
There was then a chance of a chance as Memphis Depay shoved De Jong, but he lacked the speed to capitalize and Benjamin Pavard managed to get away.
The early enthusiasm could only sustain Barcelona for so long and as the game progressed, Bayern gradually took control.
Leroy Sane volley on Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Gerard Pique had to face a last ditch challenge to stop Mueller.
But Bayern’s authority was established, even if their opening goal was much due to fortune, Mueller unleashed from 30 yards and the ball went off Eric Garcia’s back, misdirecting Ter Stegen and crawling into the post.
Barça sank before half-time, the atmosphere turned sour as the passes went astray and the attacks failed.
Another push after the break saw Sergio Busquets go wide, but Bayern came again.
Sané hit Ter Stegen’s right foot from eight yards and then Lewandowski made two, firing the ball into an open goal after Barca’s keeper fired on Jamal Musiala’s shot that went off the post.
Under threat of another beating, Koeman took Sergi Roberto and Busquets away under the whistle of the home fans. 18-year-old Yusuf Demir and 17-year-old Gavi showed up.
Still, Bayern saved Barca a humiliation, by waltzing for one more late in the day, while Lewandowski danced and fired through a sprawl of bodies with five minutes to go. For Barca, three felt like a relief.