Such is the nature of football that even in a score-line as emphatic as 4-0, it is the slimmest of margins that illuminate.
As such, it has been coming for some time now. Barcelona was bound to lose out someday. Dethroned they have been, but nobody thought it would come in this way.
Of the many traits that have been bestowed on this Barcelona side is the fact that it was never expected that they would capitulate in the same manner that Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team did in the 1994 Final. Whereas Cruyff considered identity above everything else, this Barca side had the insatiable desire to produce results on a constant occasion. Thus success has been mixed in with the identity.
But now, that drive that had ensured that they overcame every seemingly hurdle and task placed before them seems to have run out. Semi-final away trips have become something of a regularity for the Catalan giants – semi-final defeats have not.
Even so, the manner in which the four goals got past Victor Valdes is telling. The first two were set-pieces (with one seemingly offside), in the third, Jordi Alba looked to have been impeded and the fourth was a mere coup de grace – as if they had just given up.
The third however showed exactly where Barcelona lost it. Yes, Thomas Muller may have blocked off Jordi Alba as Arjen Robben waltzed his way into the penalty area, but that is where Barca’s major weakness lies. They cannot compete at any level whenever direct physicality comes into question.
It is why tiki taka was developed in the first place. Devoid of players who could match up muscularly, a mode of football was created to circumvent that. Fast, quick passing and moving into spaces meant that never was Barcelona ever going to get in direct contact with the opponents. Thus, technicality reigned supreme.
Now however, after teaching the world how to play the game differently, the physicality has circumnavigated its way back into the game. Once a team can compete on any level with Barcelona’s technique, then physicality becomes the next level. It thus stops being a disadvantage and as Bayern Munich showed, becomes valuable ammunition. It is probably why, once they were able to compete on a technique level, the physicality of Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid have been able to get the better of the Blaugrana in recent times.
But beyond that, this was also a culmination of the ‘what if’ questions that have regularly haunted this Barcelona side. What if they play against a team that could be able to sufficiently trouble that suspect defence? What if Lionel Messi failed to rise to the occasion? In Munich, both questions were answered, probably two-fold.
For as much as the problems in defending set-pieces came to light, this was probably the first time in five years that the greatest player in the world has looked out of place. He clearly looked disinterested, the effects of that hamstring injury from a few weeks ago affecting his emotional attitude as well as his physical one. This, it seems also led to him being affected mentally.
Unlike the Messi of old, he never looked to run at defenders in the manner that so characterises his game. Every ball wanted to be released early, almost as if he feared that anyone who touched him would break him. His quest for self-preservation however affected his teammates. Matched in other areas, they could not call on their secret weapon to get them out of jail.
However, to concentrate on how things went wrong for Barcelona is denying the wonderful work that Bayern did. Indeed, this is the first team since 2008 to score four goals against the Catalans and convincingly defeat them.
But what was surprising is that Bayern did not do it in the manner that was expected. The expected new Kings of European football re-adjusted from their usual selves in order to get the better of the outgoing king.
For no matter how much Bayern have been praised for their possession-based football, it was the one area that they could not compete with Barcelona.
As such, Barcelona still retained their identity, and in some sense some superiority. What Bayern did however was to display a level of clinicality not seen against Barcelona before. By creating chances, and finishing them.
In that regard, it seems ironic that the loss of Toni Kroos played into Bayern’s hands. The German is a close clone of the Barcelona midfielders, with a patience and guile that suits a possession based game. However, now without him, and with the less tactical Muller behind the striker, Bayern could break at full force whenever they got the ball.
Thus, the attacking four of Frank Ribery, Muller, Robben and Mario Gomez may not have been Bayern’s first choice one, but it was best suited to play against Barcelona.
For it exploited Barcelona on various occasions on the break, and that meant that it did not matter how little of the ball they saw.
In a way thus, the dethroning of Barcelona has taken place in the same manner as every team that has knocked out Barcelona at this stage in the past six years. Manchester United, Inter Milan and Chelsea all allowed Bayern to have the ball. All of them scored on the counter attack.
Unlike them however, Bayern did not park the bus.
And that comes to show that even though Barcelona retained their identity of past years, the dominance is now gone.
Thus, Bayern will travel to the Camp Nou with an advantage no team has ever carried. Over and above their emphatic score-line will be that sense that finally the mighty Catalans have been dethroned.
Aptly, nobody is better placed to replace them than Bayern Munich.