There was a moment in the second half at the Camp Nou when cries of Ole! could be heard behind one goal. But this wasn’t like days of old when Barcelona pinged passed at will around dizzy rivals. This was just fans in one tier of the old stadium throwing a ball to fans in another tier. They were playing catch in the stands instead of watching the game.
Out on the pitch it was dire. As one Spanish radio presenter said post game: Barça’s campaign in Europe is either going to end up feeling very long or very short this season – they will either stumble through until they meet a top side in the knockout stages, or maybe they won’t even get that far. Maybe the Europa League beckons.
Ronald Koeman and Gerard Pique rolled out the ‘it is what it is’ line after the game more than Robert De Niro had done in the film ‘The Irishman’. But what else could they say after one of the weakest Barcelona team’s in recent history lost their first Champions League game of the season 3-0 and failed to muster a single shot on target – something that had not happened before this century. It’s what it is; and what it is, is not very good.
Everyone expected an uninspiring Barcelona post Lionel Messi but this was worse. This was a performance to cast doubts on whether the five times winners of the European Cup will get out of their group.
Beyond the ‘it’s what it is’ line both Koeman and Gerard Pique tried to be positive by talking up the returns of Ousmane Dembele, Ansu Fati and Sergio Aguero from injury.
Barcelona would certainly be a different proposition with those three but Dembele has missed around 50 per cent of games since he’s been at Barcelona, Ansu Fati is recovering from an injury that ruled him out for all of last season and Sergio Aguero was absent for most of last season at Manchester City and joined the ‘unavailables’ at Barcelona before playing a single competitive match for the club following his signing this summer.
Fati might be back by October and the other two in November but if relying on them is the solution to Barça’s woes then the light at the end of the tunnel is not a particularly bright one.
Koeman is carrying the can on the morning after the night before but it’s hard to see what else he can do after the summer fire sale, the failure to keep Messi, and the long injury list has left him with a threadbare squad. Last night he finished the game with four teenagers on the pitch, forced to call on Barça B players late on.
Most supporters want a different coach and president Joan Laporta is in agreement with them. The only problem is no one knows who the replacement should be or where to find the money to hire him and fire Koeman.
Xavi would be the obvious choice but Laporta is even less convinced this is the right time for him to take the job as he is by Koeman who he undermined somewhat in the summer by publicly looking at possible alternatives.
Sergio Roberto was whistled off when substituted in the second half but he feels like a odd man to target. The home grown utility player who scored the winning goal when Barcelona beat PSG 6-1 in 2017 to stage one of the greatest comebacks seen in the Champions League is hardly the club’s big problem.
It’s true that Barcelona want to extend his contract but he seems intent on leaving on a free in 2022. But that among the many reasons why Barcelona are in the mess they are in seems an awful long way down the list.
One headline in El Mundo Deportivo on Wednesday read: ‘Bayern oblige Barça to accelerate the revolution’. But how do they do that? There is no money to spend and for all that last night’s team was a young one there is little suggest the players being thrown in are ready to make a difference now.
The supporters won’t accept the resignation shown by Koeman for long. Soon they will be asking for a different type of resignation or for him to be pushed if he wont jump.
Failing that, the spotlight will shine on president Joan Laporta who created a bubble of positivity and excitement in the summer by indicating that he was convinced Messi would stay and then failed to deliver.
The incredible thing about last night was that it wasn’t about the absence of Messi, it was about the absence of Barcelona.