"They're not playing against a Bundesliga team on Friday, they're up against Barcelona, the best team in the world," these were the words of Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal before Champions League clash against Bayern Munich.
Vidal fired a warning to Munich, which completely backfired on Friday night as the German giants thrashed Barcelona 8-2 to enter the semifinals of UEFA Champions League. In the clash of two European heavyweights, everything went wrong for the Catalan giants as they were exposed at the highest level by the dominating Bayern team, to face one of the worst defeats in the club's history.
Barcelona manager Quique Setien decided to enter the game with 4-4-2 formation to contain the opposition attack, which failed miserably as the defence didn't look prepared to face the dominating Bayern attack which consists of Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and Sergi Gnabry. In the fourth minute of the game Muller strike the first goal of the game and the humiliation went on till Phillippe Coutinho (who is on loan at Bayern from Barcelona itself) put the final nail in the coffin in 89th minute with the goal no. 8 from his side.
Bayern were the favourites to win the match but nobody in the world expected the 8-2 result. The game clearly depicted the flaws in Barcelona defence and poor Setien tactics. The Blaugrana tried the high-press game against a side who have played the most dominant football this season and they paid the price for it. Bayern players got easy space due to high press and the reluctant Barcelona defence didn't match up the pace of the opposition players. Lionel Messi, who have won countless matches on his own, was invisible in most of the game as the ball was rolling mostly in the Barca's half. The poor clearance from the goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen and defenders also cost dearly for them.
The 63rd-minute strike from Joshua Kimmich depicted the match clearly how young prodigy Alphonso Davies create chaos in the Barcelona defence with his mind-boggling run to provide the assist for the fifth goal of Bayern.
The loss declared the first trophyless season for Barcelona since 2008.
What went wrong for Barcelona this season?
Everything except Lionel Messi and Marc Andre Ter Stegen went wrong for Barcelona in the disastrous season. The Catalan giants hit the rock bottom in the defensive department this season. Ter Stegen kept gloves in 36 games and managed only 14 clean sheets but he was not the culprit behind it but the sluggish defence line, who have let down Barcelona. It was the same in the Bayern game, Ter Stegen was not at his best during the clash but it was the defence, which made him more vulnerable in the front of a world-class attack.
In Barcelona, the problem is quite evident in the past couple of season i.e their over-dependency on Lionel Messi. They have to be dependent on Messi's magic to win every big game. Antoine Griezmann has still not reached half of his best at Barcelona, the former Atletico Madrid's winger is struggling to adapt in the Barca's system. Luis Suarez had his name on the goal sheets this season 21 times, but he lacks consistency and playing at Barcelona is not only about goal scoring, but the structure also needs every player to involve in the game throughout the 90 minutes. Messi once again took all the toll on his own shoulders with 31 goals and 26 assists this season. While Griezmann only managed 15 goals and four assists, while playing more games than Messi.
What's next for Barcelona?
A revolution or complete overhaul is what Barcelona require right now otherwise they are on the brink to become the next AC Milan soon.
"We can't compete like that, you can't play like that in Europe. It is not the first time, the second time or the third time, it's very tough. I hope it is useful for something. Now everyone has to have a good look at themselves, the Club needs change and I am not talking about the coach or the players, I am not pointing the finger at anyone. Nobody is safe, I am the first to say that I will go if new blood has to come in, I am the first to leave. We have to have real look internally about what is best for the Club," experienced Gerard Pique said after humiliating defeat against Bayern.
Pique was brutally honest in the post-match presentation and that's what Barcelona need right now. There are only few players in Barcelona squad who are worthy to play for a big club like it and the management needs to build around them.
The transfer policy has been shambles for Barcelona since the departure of Neymar. The club made heavyweight signings in Philipe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann and all of them failed to fill the void of Neymar.
Dani Alves left the club in 2016 and till now Barcelona have not a found his replacement in the squad. Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo played at right-back position in the past couple of years but the spark is missing in them.
Veterans like Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Luis Suarez's prime seems over and they played most games as a liability for the team. Barcelona desperately need to find their replacements or they will face the same consequences in the upcoming season.
The Lionel Messi question?
The big question mark has been put on Messi's stay at Barcelona after his contract gets over in 2021. It was earlier reported in Spanish media that Messi had stopped contract negotiations with Barcelona amid reports of growing tensions within the club. And the rumours have got the sparks after humiliation against Bayern.
In February, Messi hit back at Barcelona’s sports director Eric Abidal on Tuesday after he criticized the players’ efforts.
Messi used his Instagram account to publish a text attacking Abidal for his criticism and saying the former player and other club directors should take responsibility for their recent decisions.
“Honestly, I don’t like to do this kind of thing, but I think everyone has to be responsible for their roles and take responsibility for their decisions,” Messi posted on an Instagram story. “We (players) are the first to acknowledge when we don’t play well. Those in charge of the sports department also have to be held accountable for their responsibilities and, above all, for their decisions,” Messi posted.
“Lastly, I think that when you talk about players, you should name them," he added. "Otherwise, you are tainting all of us and helping spread rumours that are not true.”
The spat created rumours that Messi wants a presidential change in Barcelona and he will only stay there if it happens. The fans have also demanded the same time to time after back to back humiliation in Champions League from the past three years.
It is highly expected that Messi will surely complete his contract at Barcelona till 2021 but the doubts of signing a new contract will totally depend on how Barcelona approach the transfer window and next season.
Who are the alternative for Quique Setien?
Setien's Barcelona journey is almost over after Champions League ouster. The former Real Betis coach was hired mid-season to replace Ernesto Valverde in the Barcelona camp, but he failed miserably. According to senior journalist Fabrizio Romano, Barcelona has decided to sack Setien after the dreadful campaign. Mauricio Pochettino, Xavi or Ronald Koeman are likely to replace Setien as the manager. The former Tottenham manager Pochettino is the front-runner for the race for his rich experience with the Premier League side.
It's time for Barcelona to start the rebuilding project to save the legacy of the club and final years of their biggest legend Lionel Messi.