Barcelona's Era of Champions League Dominance Is Not over Yet
It was just after the hour mark with Bayern Munich leading 5-0 on aggregate that their 5,000 travelling fans high up in the Camp Nou started to heap further humiliation on Barcelona.
As the Bayern players effortlessly kept the ball and passed it between each other, their fans loudly cheered each pass as Barcelona’s wounded players scuttled around them.
Bayern strung together around 15 passes before the move fizzled out with a tame shot, but by cheering each pass, the Bayern fans were mercilessly mocking Barcelona and making it clear they were now the team in control. They were now the masters.
In the next half-hour, Barcelona would concede two more goals to complete a 7-0 aggregate defeat and a truly wretched night.
This was Barcelona’s biggest aggregate defeat in European football, and the first time they had ever lost both legs of a Champions League tie.
If you thought the 4-0 first leg defeat at Bayern Munich last week was bad, this 3-0 defeat was even worse for they were on home turf, and, unlike Real Madrid the night before, capitulated without a fight.
But the inevitable talk of this being the end of an era for Barcelona, and that a power shift has taken place in Europe, is too easy and lazy.
Spare us the obituaries for this team.
Barcelona lost a tie, and they lost it badly—but that’s all.
Barcelona still possess arguably the game’s greatest ever player in Lionel Messi, and at only 25, he hasn’t even reached his peak yet.
When a team can still boast a player who has scored 213 goals in 234 games, talk of an era coming to an end is faintly ridiculous.
And look around the rest of the squad. With an average of age of 27, this is not a tired and aging team ready to shuffle away.
Pedro is 25. Gerard Pique is 26. Jordi Alba is 23. Sergio Busquets is 24. Andres Iniesta is 28. Cesc Fabregas is 25.
These players will in a matter of days celebrate winning the La Liga title by a double-digit margin over a Real Madrid side managed by Jose Mourinho and boasting Cristiano Ronaldo.
Does this appear like a side heading in a steep decline?
Even Xavi, who had a 100 percent pass completion against PSG last month, has only just turned 33, and with a game based on simple and effective passing rather than explosive pace, he has several more years of knitting together this Barcelona side.
After the first leg of this semifinal, Andres Iniesta launched a spirit defence of this Barcelona side, and his words remain true even now that they have been knocked out of the Champions League.
"I think it is unfair to talk of a cyclical change," he said last week via The Guardian. "Over the last five years this team has won two Champions League titles…and we are on the point of winning a fourth La Liga title. It makes no sense to analyse five years in the one match in Munich. For me the end of an era is when years go by and you don't win any titles."
It is true this Barcelona side has weaknesses; they certainly need reinforcements in defence and have gone behind 15 times so far this season. They must regret not securing Thiago Silva when they had the chance last summer.
Another striker with greater presence up front must also be on their list of priorities for the summer.
But this is Barcelona, who have the funds and, more importantly, the appeal to attract any player in the world.
So Barcelona have lost a Champions League semifinal, just like they did in 2008 and 2010. And on both those occasions they came back the very next year to become champions of Europe.
Barcelona will not now be at Wembley this month, but I have a feeling they will be in the final in Lisbon next May.
Barcelona will be back. Their era of dominance is far from over.
Follow Sam Pilger on Twitter @sampilger
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