The margin had yet to reach comical proportions when the intersection of the old and the new — 33-year-old Barcelona midfielder Lionel Messi and teenaged Bayern Munich left back Alphonso Davies — underscored how desperately outclassed Barca was on this day.
Bayern led by a single goal in the 11th minute, when Davies went surging along the left side into a field of open space that beckoned with promise. Messi, perhaps the greatest player of all time but perpetually more focused on attack, saw no choice. He had to bring down Davies with a tactical but ruthless foul.
It was as clear a sign of Bayern Munich’s superiority in this Champions League quarterfinal as the three-goal margin at halftime or the 8-2 final score.
The great Messi was reduced to routine hackery in this moment, and to helpless spectator as the game advanced. Barca rarely was a threat, and never on Bayern’s level. Veteran forward Thomas Muller scored twice. Goal machine Robert Lewandowski had to wait until the 82nd minute to get one in this game, his 54th in all competitions this season. Philippe Coutinho wasn’t subbed on until the 75th minute, but he still found time to score twice.
“At this moment, our team is in incredible shape,” Muller said following the game. “We had so much fun today. For our style to play, it doesn’t matter how the names of the players are. Of course, they are special players. We have to be even more aggressive and come back in this situation again and again and again.
“We feel good. You can imagine, we feel good after this match. It was very special.”
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No team ever had scored eight goals in the elimination stages of the Champions League. No Messi team ever had been humiliated to this degree. No Barcelona team had lost by six goals in any competition since 1951, when they dropped a La Liga game against Espanyol. With Barca out, no team from Spain’s top flight will be in the semifinals for first time in 13 years.
Defender Gerard Pique, a World Cup titlist and three-time Champions League winner, called the evening in Lisbon “an embarrassment” in a postmatch interview on the field. “The team needs changes of all types … We need to change the dynamic. I would be the first to go. We’ve hit rock bottom. I think we all have to look at this and reflect and try to figure out what would be the best for the club, for Barcelona.”
Had that been Davies’ only moment in this victory that sent Bayern to the Champions League semis for the fifth time in the past seven years, it would have been enough. His team didn’t need a lot. His best would arrive more than 50 minutes later, though, when he conjured one of the most dazzling assists this competition has seen.
Isolated with the ball near the left sideline against Barca’s Nelson Semedo, Davies froze the defender with a couple of feints, then dashed toward the end line and drove the ball forward toward the net. Pique was vexed. Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was perplexed. Neither demonstrated any understanding of how to cope with this threat. So Davies was free to continue his advance and direct a pass to the center of the box, where Joshua Kimmich was available for a tap-in.
It wasn’t Davies’ goal, but it long will be remembered as Davies’ highlight.
Davies represented the clear difference between Bayern and Barca, a brilliant example of how to scout talent, acquire it for a generous but reasonable price, and then build that player into a world-class performer.
He was not yet 16 years old when he made his debut for MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps in July 2016, and he made 65 appearances for the club over the next two seasons. Bayern purchased his contract for an MLS-record $22 million in July 2018 and allowed him to finish the league season. He didn’t make his first start for Bayern until the ninth game of this season. By the time Bayern clinched the Bundesliga title in June, he was being discussed as one of the best left backs in the world.
Barcelona has spent a fortune in recent years collecting such players as Arturo Vidal (now 33, $23 million), Antoine Griezmann (29, $133 million) and Coutinho (28, $190 million), while the defense aged and the midfield slowed. The Coutinho fee was a record in January 2018, but Barca had no idea what to do with him, how to fit him into the system, and loaned him to Bayern in advance of this season.
A well-run team, such as Bayern, would have had a coherent plan for a player before making such a massive purchase. No, that’s not quite right. Bayern wouldn’t have spent such an absurd amount on anyone but the second coming of Franz Beckenbauer.
Coutinho has been useful for Bayern, which paid just $9.35 million to borrow him. He has made 35 appearances in 2019-20, though he no longer is a regular starter. But he was available to be subbed on at the end, and to inflict even more damage to Barcelona’s pride. What was left of it, anyway.