This is it. Barcelona have broken new ground.
After threatening to become a proper basket case crisis club for months on end, and tempting fate by signing the likes of Martin Braithwaite and Luuk de Jong, it’s finally happened. The Blaugrana are in uncharted chaos.
Defeat to Bayern Munich in Tuesday’s Champions League group stage opener was far from a surprise given the 8-2 thrashing Barça suffered in their last encounter, but somehow the most recent loss felt worse.
The former was more like a freakish exaggeration of a result at the time – this one was all too depressingly predictable.
It was Barcelona’s first defeat since Lionel Messi left the club he’d given his entire career to, and for those optimistically hoping that the sidemen would thrive in his absence, it was an unwelcome rude awakening.
Even in that demoralising 8-2 defeat in 2020, the Blaugrana were actually in the game for brief periods, and threatened to roll back the years – until Bayern went through the gears and blew them away.
On Tuesday, Die Roten didn’t even have to get out of neutral. They simply rolled down the slight decline, and Barça couldn’t keep up. Watching this group stage clash, it never once felt like a meeting between two European giants.
Not for a second did you truly believe Barcelona could outgun the German side, nor did they give us reason to think they could. To the untrained eye, this could have been a run of the mill ‘giant vs minnow’ clash, with the plucky underdog putting up a fight as best they could.
Thomas Muller’s deflected strike midway through the first half knocked the stuffing out of the hosts, and took the wind out of supporters’ sails. There were some very ‘non-league side conceding the opener against Premier League opposition in FA Cup third round’ vibes to the shift in atmosphere.
Robert Lewandowski’s two second-half strikes gave the scoreline a more realistic touch, but in truth, it could have been a lot worse for Barça, who were reduced to a lot of last-ditch defending, and relied on poor finishing to keep the scoreline at ‘humbling’ rather than ‘utterly embarrassing’.
Koeman tried to squeeze a drop of positivity from the game by handing out three European debuts for teenage trio Gavi, Alejandro Balde and Yusuf Demir, but there was no disguising this game for what it was: an absolute shambles, and an indication of how far Barcelona have fallen.
Any dreams of a young, energetic Barça side being born from Messi’s ashes died last night, with the unbeaten start to the new La Liga season being put into context: Barça are still one of the best teams in Spain, but they’re miles off the pace compared to the rest of Europe.
The fallout from the 3-0 destruction only further highlighted the true nature of their problems. First, injuries to key duo Pedri and Jordi Alba were announced. The former – who played 73 matches for club and country last season – finally paid the price for Barça and Spain’s over-reliance and overuse of him at his tender age, picking up a thigh injury that could sideline him for around a month.
On top of that, Alba could miss the same number of matches with a hamstring injury, meaning Koeman may be forced to play without a recognised senior full-back until the next international break.
He’s been backed into that particular corner by the club’s sales of Emerson Royal and Junior Firpo to the Premier League, as well as fitness issues for Sergino Dest and now Alba. Barcelona’s threadbare squad is already being tested to its maximum, with Koeman waiting for the return of Ansu Fati, Sergio Aguero, Braithwaite and Ousmane Dembele.
Imagine a world where Barça are waiting for Braithwaite to come back from injury to support free transfer Memphis Depay. Then again, imagine a world where Barça signed Braithwaite as an emergency backup for Luis Suarez, but offered him a four-year contract.
It genuinely boggles the mind.
The humiliation reached its peak on Wednesday afternoon, however, when president Joan Laporta released a message to supporters via Twitter, begging them to support the team and to have some ‘trust and patience.’
They were the actions of a man who knows he is not in control of a spiralling situation, and while promising to resolve their issues, he is well aware that this new low may not be the official rock bottom for Barcelona.
Brace yourselves, Culers, for as bad as things feel today, signs point to the situation only worsening tomorrow.