Matches are about deficiencies and a team being able to take advantage of them. The winning team does, the losing team doesn’t.
Matches are about chances taken, and chances not taken.
Winning matches are about moments, and either being up to them or not.
One key moment found Pedri essentially in a 1v1 against Manuel Neuer. He hit a shot that would have beaten most keepers. Neuer stopped it, in a moment that would likely have defined the match had Pedri been able to finish.
The second moment came on the Bayern set piece. As the ball floated in, most keepers come out to clear it. Ter Stegen didn’t. Even counting the appalling marking, Ter Stegen didn’t. It’s a difficulty that he has long had, controlling the space in front of his goal. He has been quite good this season, but that deficiency is an acknowledged one that Bayern took full advantage of.
It was also a key moment because Barça was beginning to flag. The weight of it all was coming to bear, of being thisclose against a better team.
The third moment came when Leroy Sane showed the advantage of pace and quality. He outran everyone. Positioning and passing? Sure. But Sane just smoked everyone and slotted home, making football a very simple game.
The obvious things to note, however, are the slack finishing from Barça. Pedri left two on the board, Lewandowski left at least one. Bayern didn’t. And that’s the difference. In the scoreline, anyway.
All that said, Barça is much, much better equipped to play with Bayern, just not for a full match. Bayern also has problem solvers such as Upamecano, who was truly a one-man wrecking crew. It’s that little extra bit of quality that at pressure-filled moments, make the difference. Barça didn’t have that. Dembele was off, Raphinha was off more, Lewandowski was off. Add Pedri’s misses to that equation, and a winnable match became a loss. Not an ugly one, which is progress for a Barça team that was on the front foot for so much of the proceedings. Yet ultimately, it came down to moments, as most matches do between top-level teams.
This wasn’t a beatdown as so many feared. But it was an emphatic win as Bayern hit the accelerator and Barça was stuck in gear. Xavi made subs but Ferran Torres, Frenkie De Jong and Eric Garcia aren’t going to do anything much against a team such as Bayern. Neither is Ansu Fati, who is still working his way back into fitness. That’s the challenge for the next transfer windows, making sure the team has the necessary quality to move things around. Naglesmann decided to start Upamecano over De Ligt, and gained in the equation. Hard not to imagine the result being different with the Dutch defender in that Bayern back line.
Xavi rolled out with Marcos Alonso, who ultimately showed that he is the free transfer that he was. Araujo is good. Very good. He isn’t at the level of a defender such as Upamecano yet. Another difference. There is also the pace, technical ability and strength difference that manifested itself as the match progressed. And that was that. Barça needs better players, faster players, stronger players. That’s been the reality for season after season, and it’s still the reality. Culers can be consoled by the fact that Barça didn’t get smoked. But by not taking advantage of moments that the team had before the weight of ultimate quality of the opponent came to bear, danger beckoned. People will say that everything was fine, that all this talk about pace and strength is for teams that don’t trod the pure path. Cool. But the difference in this match was clear. The result wasn’t as decisive because Bayern isn’t at its best, and Barça is greatly improved, and played a brilliant first half, even as it was a precarious one. Plays that worked against lesser opposition, tried by Raphinha or Dembele, resulted in turned possession. That’s the difference.
For a while, Gavi and Pedri, kids really, dominated the Bayern midfield. Until they didn’t. And couldn’t. And from then on Bayern was in control of the match, playing not with ease, but except for the chance that Raphinha had, and the other chance that Pedri had, they were in control of the second half. Finish your chances. As the lesser team, you don’t get many of them and Barça had more than they likely will the next time these teams meet, at the Camp Nou. Oh, and bring horses, because you need horses to run a race. The could haves and should haves will console, but Bayern did what they needed to do because they could, against players and a team not quite up to the necessary level. Or more correctly, not able to sustain the necessary level. Neuer made the saves. Ter Stegen didn’t. The Bayern attackers finished. The Barça attackers didn’t. Sometimes, football is simple. The team that scores more wins. But in this case, there will be consolation in something can could be called a good loss.
Never forget that the last time Barça played Bayern, the gulf in class was more like a chasm that the lesser team fell into. This meeting, this match, they had chances. Plenty of them. A few years from now, Pedri is cool enough to finish those chances. Not now. Xavi is still rebuilding. Bayern is built, and ready. Eventually, Barça will be as well. They weren’t today, and they won’t be when the teams meet next. But improvement is there, and clear. And that’s something. Now let’s leave it to Xavi to sum up:
“But we have to learn to compete, like Bayern do.”