Barcelona showed against Bayern Munich on Tuesday that the worst may be behind for them but have not yet managed to pull level with football’s elite in the quest for the Champions League glory.
Julian Nagelsmann’s Bundesliga champions rode their luck at the Allianz Arena in the first half but improved after the break to dispatch a spirited, but ultimately frustrated, Barcelona 2-0 with goals from Lucas Hernandez and Leroy Sane.
The Catalans last won the Champions League in 2015, beating Bayern in the semifinals on the way to their triumph in Berlin, but have now suffered five consecutive defeats against the Bavarians.
Last season Barca, reeling from the departure of Lionel Messi, were twice defeated comprehensively by Bayern, contributing to a humiliating group stage exit.
The previous season they suffered a brutal 8-2 dissection at the hands of the Bavarians which demonstrated how far they had fallen from the game’s summit.
In Munich on Tuesday Barcelona had the better of the first half, with former Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski spurning a handful of opportunities on his return to Germany, but two goals in a five-minute second-half salvo whisked the game away from them.
“We will take the positives and even though it was a negative result, we can learn from the errors,” said Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández.
“It’s a step back. We did enough to draw, if not to win. A defeat is not deserved, but we made mistakes in the two boxes.”
Lewandowski blasted over and had a close-range header parried away by Manuel Neuer in the first half, before dallying on the ball in the box when he might have squeezed off a shot first-time.
La Liga’s top scorer seemed unusually indecisive in front of goal on his return to the Allianz Arena, the scene of so many of his successes over the past eight seasons before his summer switch to Camp Nou.
“When we talk about competing, we’re talking about doing it at a corner, or in a transition,” said Xavi, referring to defensive errors for Bayern’s two goals.
“It’s also about efficiency. You get in front of the goalkeeper and you should score.
“We did not score despite having seven clear chances, we have to put them away. I am angry but proud.”
Barcelona midfielder Pedri was also denied by the impeccable Neuer when well placed and hit the post with another good opportunity.
“In the first half we had a lot of chances but if you don’t take them against teams like this, you end up paying,” he added.
At the other end, Marcos Alonso failed to track Hernandez at a corner for the opening goal, while Sane glided away from him and the rest of Barcelona’s defence for the second goal without facing a robust challenge at any point.
“We can say that we were better, but it’s about winning,” Xavi. “The first came from a corner and the second from not stopping a counter-attack, we have to do that.
“They are a fully-fledged team, while we are at the beginning. We have to improve in both boxes.”