No Messi, no hope - Barcelona at risk of becoming European irrelevance

Martin Macdonald
Barcelona v Bayern Munich, Champions League

Ahead of the Champions League fixture against Bayern Munich on Tuesday evening, Barcelona fielded one of the most uninspiring starting XIs in their entire history in the tournament.

A middle three of Pedri, Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong looked okay, but with Ronald Araujo and Eric Garcia flanking Gerard Pique at the back, and Memphis Depay partnering goal-shy Luuk de Jong in attack, the Camp Nou faithful would have been fearing the worst.

For them, the worst actually came a couple of years ago when Bayern demolished Barca 8-2 in the quarter-final of the Champions League.

That was a horrendous result, but this 3-0 loss to Bayern was perhaps more indicative of the club's current situation.

Few expected Barca to get anything out of the game against the German giants, even on home soil.

Indeed, the match presented itself as an early Champions League group stage fair in which an elite side easily beats one of the plucky outfits who are simply happy to be in the tournament.

Barcelona aren't that, but the result will go down as such a routine win for Bayern that it could be seen as such.

In the 8-2 loss against Bayern, Barcelona started with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in attack, while here they started with Memphis and De Jong, the latter of which scored nine goals in 48 games before making the switch to Catalunya from Sevilla.

Barcelona's financial crisis has decimated their squad to the point that, when Martin Braithwaite was ruled out for four months, it was seen as another crisis and it was truly men against boys. Bayern did not have to work hard at all to claim a victory against one of the most successful sides in the history of European football.

Messi's exit

Prior to this match Thomas Muller suggested Barcelona might actually be better off without Messi, at least defensively.

Barca's performances in La Liga so far, and the fixture in the Champions League, proved this hypothesis as false.

Ronald Koeman, too, said he hoped Messi's departure would allow for the team to implement a higher pressing game - that hasn't happened.

Barcelona's fixture at the weekend versus Sevilla was postponed due to the number of players featuring in South America World Cup qualifying the previous Thursday, which means they have played just three matches in La Liga without Messi so far.

A 4-2 win against Real Sociedad on the opening day was followed by a 1-1 draw versus Athletic Club, with a narrow 2-1 victory against Getafe coming after that.

Lionel Messi at his PSG presentation with Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Leonardo

A tally of seven goals scored in three games is respectable, but the four goals against will be a cause for concern.

At the moment, Barca have the joint seventh-best defence in the league, and have now conceded 11 goals in two games against Bayern Munich.

Messi earned the right to do as he pleased on the pitch at Barcelona and at PSG, he will receive the same freedom.

For the most part football, though, has developed to the point where most elite teams press high up the pitch, so it is certainly isn't outside the realms of possibility that Barca could improve, at least when it comes to modernising how they play.

But, the fact remains that the loss of Messi will hurt them more than it will help them.

Nobody, after all, is more capable of producing a moment of match-winning brilliance than Messi.