A 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich is leading to spiraling among Culers that I find myself a tad surprised by, to be honest. The XI that Ronald Koeman selected was the closest XI he could muster where the greatest majority of players were playing in their natural positions.
Sergi Roberto, who was playing as a right wing-back, as opposed to his more natural “right-back” or “central midfielder”, looked the most out of place on the evening. Both he and Luuk de Jong received jeers from the Camp Nou crowd as they exited; a harsh treatment for players that weren’t good enough, but maybe weren’t put in the positions to succeed. It’s not a defense of Roberto – no dribbles while playing out on the wing and nine times dispossessed. That latter figure doesn’t look so bad compared to Jordi Alba’s 24 times dispossessed or Memphis Depay’s 20, but at the very least they were showing the intention to create something. Roberto was so evidently not the man for that job, even if he is an experienced captain, and I can’t imagine Óscar Mingueza would have had a lesser impact. Sergi Roberto’s role in this squad is that of back-up midfielder to Frenkie de Jong or Sergio Busquets, and you would certainly argue that he could start losing some of those minutes to Nico González in the near future.
Luuk de Jong, meanwhile, was jeered based on expectations that he probably didn’t deserve. He was brought in due to the injuries and transfers on the forward line, coming in on loan for free. That sounds to me like he wasn’t the first choice forward, or the second or the third. He was available, having fallen down the Sevilla depth chart, and unlike Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembélé, and Sergio Agüero, he was also available to play against Bayern Munich. The idea may have been to use his hold-up play and partnership with Memphis to create something – anything – but Bayern’s overwhelming athleticism and organization meant that he never touched the ball in the first place. On the heat map, it’s telling that Luuk de Jong was close to Pedri, a player he’d never played with before, but the completed number of passes between the two was sorely lacking.
Now compare that to Bayern Munich. Their number nine is the best in the world. Robert Lewandowski took whatever remaining trust that Culers may have had in Eric García and dissolved it like sugar in hot water. Their heat map shows a team that understands where each other will be and how to put each other in positions to succeed.
Bayern Munich did the traveling, got the win, and got to take their healthy squad back to Bavaria to continue decimating the Bundesliga. They are the marker in world football right now, and Barça fell uncomfortably short. Some will protest that it’s their superior athleticism and intensity, but Gavi came on and found a way to go toe-to-toe with Leon Goretzka (while earning himself one yellow and a potential second). It isn’t desire either. Jordi Alba, who has received plenty of criticism for his “mentality” against tough opponents, played with an injured hamstring and was coming down from a fever. He had a willingness and a want to play, but his body let him down.
Therein lies the worst part in losing to Bayern Munich in a game where the home team recorded not a single shot on target. Not only does Barça have to go back to the drawing board again and lick their wounds, but the injuries keep piling up. It’s naive to think that Ansu Fati or Dembélé would have shifted the scoreline, and their absences are being used as an excuse.
Yet, to some degree, it should be. The manager has nine players he trusts that were healthy against Bayern. Memphis, Frenkie de Jong, Busquets, Piqué, García, Araújo, Jordi Alba, and Pedri. With injuries to Alba and Pedri, that number falls to seven. By trust, I mean that he seems comfortable to start them in any match. Nagelsmann, meanwhile, has at least 15 players that he starts and rotates into their all-conquering side. It is a manager’s own hubris that has him not trusting the likes of Riqui Puig and Samuel Umtiti without giving them a proper chance, but the point persists. Barcelona is still in a cataclysmic financial place and the squad has been drained of both its top talents and depth pieces from last season.
It’s not just Koeman’s fault. It’s not just all on the sins of Bartomeu. Instead, it’s a bit of everything and something that will take time, good luck, and most importantly, healthy players and healthy finances. Until then, Vamos Alejandro Balde, Gavi, Nico, and the rest of the next generation!
Dan Hilton is an American journalist, broadcaster, and current Editor-in-Chief of BarcaBlog. Extensive work as a play-by-play broadcaster, producer behind the scenes, and quite average player in his younger years has given him a well-rounded and informative perspective on the sport. Alongside BarcaBlog founder Francesc, Dan started The Barcelona Podcast in 2017