Champions League: Bayern Munich humiliates Barcelona; is this the beginning of the end of the Lionel Messi era? (video)

What's next for Lionel Messi and Barcelona after Friday's embarrassing 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich? (Manu Fernandez/Getty Images)
What's next for Lionel Messi and Barcelona after Friday's embarrassing 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich? (Manu Fernandez/Getty Images)

Friday’s marquee Champions League quarterfinal between Bayern Munich and Lionel Messi’s Barcelona was billed as a matchup between some of the greatest attacking players in the world. Instead, Barca’s defensive shortcomings were so badly exposed that their German counterparts ran roughshod for 90 minutes on the way to an 8-2 humiliation that sent Bayern to next week’s semifinal and put Messi’s future with Barca in doubt:

Bayern will meet the winner of Saturday’s match between Manchester City and French upstart Lyon next Wednesday in Lisbon, which was selected to host the tournament quarters through final following a unplanned five-month, coronavirus-induced interruption.

Bayern Munich’s early strike was a sign of things to come

The opening minutes of the match between these two global heavyweights lived up to the hype, with Barca and Bayern trading punches early on. Yet Bayern’s shocking superiority on the day would be foreshadowed by Thomas Muller’s goal less than four minutes into the match, off a pretty give-and-go with Robert Lewandowski:

Barcelona got back on even terms in short order, but even that wasn’t their own doing: David Alaba scored one of the most spectacular own goals you’ll ever see at the game’s highest level.

Didn’t matter. Bayern kept right on coming with an urgency and hunger Barca couldn’t come close to matching. Their edge in aggressiveness was plain to see as the Bundesliga champs reclaimed their lead midway through the first half, with Barcelona’s back line collapsing after an unforced loss of possession in the buildup to Ivan Perisic’s strike off a slick overlap with Serge Gnabry:

Barcelona’s defensive frailties exposed, Bayern didn’t let up, adding two more goals though Gnabry and Muller to run out to an ultimately insurmountable 4-1 lead shortly after the half-hour mark. Had it been a boxing match, the referee surely would’ve called it a technical knockout there and then. One of the protagonists was clearly out on their feet. Unfortunately for them, it wouldn’t get any better after the break.

Does this mark the beginning of end of the Lionel Messi era for Barcelona?

While Bayern came into the contest as the bookies’ clear pick, Barcelona’s utter and complete capitulation was no less shocking. Maybe it shouldn’t have been.

Barca has been in shambles for months now, blowing a lead atop La Liga to lose the title to Spanish rival and blood enemy Real Madrid amid rumors of Messi’s unhappiness with the higher-ups. The club is in desperate need of a rebuild — especially in the back, as Friday’s performance showed — but it’s fair to wonder if a proper and thorough reboot can take place while Messi is still around.

The otherworldly Argentine superstar should go down as the best player in the history of the sport. He’ll also turn 34 next year. And while Messi is showing few signs of slowing down (he led La Liga in goals for the fourth consecutive season in 2019-20), his window for winning another European title with Barca appears to be closing. And he’s not alone.

Luis Suarez gave Barca some hope when he pulled one back to cut the lead to 4-2 in the second half. But Suarez is also 33, as is Gerard Pique. Sergio Busquets is 32. That aging core will have to be replaced before Barcelona can return to the levels it reached when it won the Champions League three times from 2009-2015.

“The team needs changes of all types,” Pique said afterward. “We’ve hit rock bottom.”

Bayern now the clear favorite to win its sixth Champions League title

It still has to get past either Lyon and Man City, and the latter especially would be no easy out. But Bayern came into the quarterfinals as the obvious choice to go all the way this season for the first time since 2013, and their systematic demolition of a titan like Barcelona on Friday only reinforced that status as prohibitive favorites.

This Bayern team has been lights-out since Niko Kovac was fired in November following a 5-1 humiliation against Eintracht Frankfurt, with Hansi Flick turning things around and guiding the club to its eighth straight German title before the domestic campaign concluded. Unlike Barca, they’re as good in the back as they are up top.

Alphonso Davies has emerged as one of the best fullbacks in the world, and the Canadian teenager set up Joshua Kimmich for Bayern’s fifth goal:

And they would score thee more after that, culminating with two from former Barca winger Philippe Coutinho in the final five minutes of the match:

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