Durban - Barcelona have stumbled to a 17-year low. The Blaugrana’s 3-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in their Champions League Group E clash on Wednesday saw them finish third in their group behind Benfica and the German giants.
They have been consigned to the Europa League, the first time that they will play in Europe’s second tier club competition since the 2003/4 season when it was known as the Uefa Cup. It also marked the first time that the La Liga club have been eliminated from the Champions League group stage since the 2000/01 season.
In the 2003/4 season, Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona team were eliminated from the fourth round of the then Uefa Cup following a 1-0 aggregate defeat against Scottish giants Celtic.
Was the result against Bayern surprising? The answer is no.
The result was expected. Barcelona finished their group stage games with a goal deficit of -7, conceding nine goals and scoring just two. They conceded 6 goals, scoring just two prior to their game against Bayern and it would have been unrealistic to have expected them to beat one of the world’s best sides.
Barcelona have been in crisis for several months. They are seventh in La Liga. If anything, they are a Europa League quality side at best.
David Moyes’ West Ham side who are fourth in the English Premier League are a more cohesive unit than the Blaugrana.
Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller captured the state of the Barcelona team well recently when he said, “Barça cannot cope with the intensity. Technically and tactically, they have it all. But at the highest level, they cannot match the intensity of the game.”
It would be disingenuous to blame the result on new Barcelona coach Xavi. The club legend has only been in charge for a short time. Based on the state of the squad he inherited, it will take him a few years before Barcelona can be world beaters again.
At best, Xavi can work on improving chemistry within his side so that they can potentially advance to the deeper stages of the Europa League.
With the Europa League knockout stages set to feature the likes of West Ham, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Betis, Lazio and Monaco, it will not be easy for Barcelona. It will be unfamiliar territory for them and they won’t be favourites to win the competition.
It was a given that this season would be one of rebuilding for Barcelona, but it’s gone worse than diehard fans and even the club would have anticipated.
They are out of the Champions League, and face a tough mission to finish in the top four of the La Liga. Their most recent 1-0 defeat to Real Betis has left them six points adrift of fourth-place Atletico Madrid in Spain.