On Tuesday evening Barcelona took to the field at the Allianz Arena but somewhere in the back of their minds, the Bayern Munich of Lisbon was lurking.
It was perhaps Barcelona’s lowest moment on the pitch, if not in history then certainly in their modern past, when they were beaten, battered and spat out by a machine-like Bayern Munich. The match finished 8-2, confirming the end of Barcelona’s run amongst the elite of European football. The humiliation was total.
Since then, two managers have been moved on and over 20 players have been pushed out or encouraged towards the door. Xavi Hernandez returned to the club last season just in time to see them nudged out of the Champions League group stages and into the Europa League, once again by Bayern.
In a bid to revamp the squad and more importantly reset the mentality in Barcelona, President Joan Laporta sanctioned a number of risky financial measures in order to fund a summer spending spree. A move akin to going all-in on this squad.
Although Xavi had already made progress last season, the apex of which was a 4-0 thumping of arch rivals Real Madrid, by the end there was a distinct sense that drastic action needed to be taken to return them to the top of the European game. Bayern had violently removed Barcelona’s aura.
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Despite a good start to the season, it was the first real test of their credentials against top sides. Regardless of the 2-0 defeat, the footballing cognoscenti seemed to approve of Barcelona’s performance and how far Xavi has taken his side. Starting the season with a 0-0 draw against Rayo Vallecano, since they have scored 19 goals, conceding just 4 and winning the rest. Until the Bayern match though, only Sevilla are competing in the Champions League this year though, with Julen Lopetegui’s side looking a shadow of their former selves.
Ahead of the return leg at Camp Nou, there is no better side against which for Barcelona to demonstrate that their transition to a new era is close to an end. To show that they can compete with anyone. Veteran Gerard Pique received plenty of criticism when he tweeted “We are back” following their March victory over Real Madrid. It might only be the group stages, but Barcelona have not beaten Bayern since 2015. If they do so, then it will be confirmed.