Exactly 13 months ago, Barcelona were dealt their greatest humiliation in Champions League history, losing 8-2 to a rampant Bayern Munich to crash out of the Europe like never before. Adding insult to injury was their most expensive signing of all time – Philippe Coutinho, on loan with the Bavarians after underwhelming at the Nou Camp – scoring two goals and providing an assist for the eventual champions.
Now, still reeling from the loss of their greatest icon and player in Lionel Messi after yet another controversial behind-the-scenes management fiasco, Barca roll up their sleeves to take on an ominous Bayern side at home in the Group E opener on Tuesday. But, there may be a silver lining in the cloud of gloom surrounding the Blaugrana in recent times after all.
Summer signing Memphis Depay has been an instant hit at Barca since his free transfer from Lyon, having been involved in four league goals so far and digging his side out of difficult situations in tough games. His link-up play with those around him is par-excellence, and he is also comfortable playing as a free-roaming attacker in the final third.
His performances have lifted spirits both among his teammates and the fans. Depay is also coming off the back of a successful international break, bagging five goals in two games for the Netherlands in World Cup qualifications.
Manager Ronald Koeman is likely to go for a 3-5-2 formation, something that worked well for him in patches last season. And while Depay will be one guaranteed starter and the team’s primary attacking threat, there are doubts over the rest of the squad.
Barca have a slew of first-choice players out injured for this crucial game. Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembele, Sergio Aguero will all not be available. Martin Braithwaite is another who has joined the long-term injury list, with new arrival Luuk de Jong most likely to partner Depay up front.
Young Pedri will the driving force in midfield, which will also boast the technical prowess and ball-retention abilities of Frenkie de Jong and captain Sergio Busquests respectively. Together they should make for a much more well-rounded midfield than the one that was overrun in Lisbon a year ago.
Jordi Alba and Oscar Mingueza are expected to play as wingbacks, with the back three manned by Gerard Pique, Ronald Araujo and Clement Lenglet. Marc Andre ter Stegen, another guaranteed starter, will look to banish his ghosts from the 8-2 loss.
Barca also have something they did not in Lisbon on August 14, 2020, raucous Culers in the stands. The conditions seem just about right for Barca to exact revenge.
But Bayern are still among the strongest teams in the world, spearheaded by Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, who has already scored 10 goals for club and country so far. The Bundesliga champions have scored 24 goals in their last 4 matches in all competitions – an indication that the threat does not get any bigger.
In a recent interview, Koeman said “Thanks to me, this club has a future.” Now is the time for him to prove it.