No doubt, this matchup is the most high profiled one of the 2022/2023 Champions League group stage matches. These are my five takeaways from the first of two group stage matches between these two European football behemoths.
1. The big matchup delivered
On several occasions, matches between two European heavyweights in the group stage have produced a dour and drab football affair, with each team trying as much as possible not to yield unnecessary ground to their opponent. This match was completely different. From the first minute both teams aimed for each other's throat, each break in play leading to furious attacking runs at the opposition. The quality of chances created was just unbelievable, with both teams relentlessly attacking each other. If you watched this match, you can never complain about not being entertained - except if you happen to support Barcelona.
2. Barcelona is back
Yes, Barcelona lost this game, which is not the end of the world. After all, Bayern are yet to lose a single group stage match of the last 30. Xavi confidently said they deserved to win that, and it's very hard to argue against the Spaniard's assertion. Barcelona were dangerous all through the match. Lewandowski was simply impossible to track. If the Polish striker buried the chances he had in the first half there is no way Barcelona would lose this match. Dembele was a nuisance all through. Also, the fact that top players like Frenkie de Jong, Frank Kessie and the effective Ferran Torres and Hector Bellerin started on the bench proves Barcelona now have strength in depth. If they finally click, they will be hard to stop.
3. Brutal Europe
Barcelona had more shots than Bayern. They had more possessions, created more chances and more clear cut opportunities. Based on statistics, they should've won convincingly. However, European club football is an unforgiving space. Your mistakes are brutally exposed and exploited. Every missed chance count, a simple heavy touch from a midfielder may lead to the downfall of his team. Simply put, European football is brutal. And the UEFA Champions League is the highest level of club football played anywhere in the world, no disrespect to the other continents.
4. Struggling Bayern not favourites
It sounds confusing to call the winning team a struggling one, right? However, Bayern struggled a lot last night. No one typified Bayern's struggle more than the beleaguered Sadio Mane. He was clearly not in the race last night. He had few touches and was not dangerous at any point in the game. Also, Bayern rode their luck on far too many occasions that I'm still in disbelief that the game ended without a single goal for Barcelona. Though they scored two goals, they weren't dangerous in the box. They clearly missed a box 18 striker last night. It is silly of anyone to think Mane will provide the same threat as Lewandowski in the box.
If Bayern had played against the ruthless Real Madrid last night, Bayern would concede at least three goals. Vinicius Jnr. won't be as clueless as Raphinha, Modric won't be bullied by Goretzka and Sabitzer the same way Pedri and Gavi were. In fact, based on what Bayern have shown so far, they are behind Madrid, Man City and PSG for this year's tournament win. However, football has a mind of its own. I won't be surprised if they win this when the season ends.
5. The second leg is a must watch
In the last decade, Bayern have tormented Barcelona more than any other on the European stage. Since the 2012/2013 season both teams have played eight times. Bayern won seven of those eight encounters, scoring 26 goals and conceding just 7. That's complete dominance. They've won the last five of those meetings, with the 8-2 trashing in the semifinals of the 2019/2020 season the lowest point for Barcelona in recent seasons.
However, that run of consecutive wins may be about to end. Barcelona played fearlessly in Germany and should've gotten at least a draw from that game. Based on the performance, the ridiculous amount of talents Barcelona have in their ranks right now and the issues with Bayern, I believe Barcelona will win the second leg of this encounter at Camp Nou. How I wish the second leg of this encounter played tonight!
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