Lisbon, Barcelona returned to the scene of one of their worst defeats ever and suffered another paralysing loss, this time in a 3-0 final with Benfica on Matchday 2 of the UEFA Champions League group stage at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon.
Playing on the same pitch where they were humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the 2019/20 Champions League quarter-finals, Barcelona limped to defeat against the Portuguese side with a combination of poor defending and some horrific finishing.
The results mean Barcelona are now not only winless after their first two matches in Group E but are also goalless and facing the very real possibility of failing to reach the knockout round.
There was a return of Pedri in Ronald Koeman’s midfield, while at the back the Dutch boss opted for three centre-backs and up front a pairing of Luuk de Jong and Memphis Depay.
It was a nightmare start for Barcelona, with Darwin Nunez handing the hosts an early 1-0 lead by moving past the slow-footed Eric Garcia and firing in past goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen for the goal.
After another wobble that saw Roman Yaremchuk force a save out of Ter Stegen, Barcelona found some footing and should have equalised on a clear chance for Luuk de Jong, who botched the shot, followed by missed opportunities for Pedri and Memphis Depay.
Koeman elected to go to his bench in the first half and he hooked the already booked Gerard Pique, who was replaced by Gavi. The veteran centre-back was almost given his second yellow, but nonetheless it was a shock to see the decorated defender taken off.
The decision also meant Frenkie de Jong dropped back in defence, and with that Barcelona’s attacking impetus was badly blunted.
Darwin Nunez nearly had another goal at the start of the second half, this time when Ter Stegen came way off his line, allowing Nunez to round the German shot-stopper and fire a long-range shot with the goal-mouth completely open, only for the ball to hit the post.
Outside of a Sergi Roberto volley off a Memphis pass that was blocked at the far post, Barcelona’s attack was generating little, so the recently returned Ansu Fati along with Nico Gonzalez and Philippe Coutinho were summoned for Luuk de Jong, Busquets and Pedri.
But moments after that trio entered the pitch, Benfica made it 2-0 when Rafa Silva followed up Joao Mario’s blocked shot with a finish into net.
The night would grow worse for the Catalonian visitors, with VAR ruling for a penalty in favour of Benfica for a Sergino Dest handball off a Gilberto header. Nunez stepped up and coolly converted the spot-kick, stretching the advantage to 3-0.
For Barcelona, it was just about limiting the damage from that point on, which they managed to do, but not before Eric Garcia got himself sent off for a second yellow card, perfectly encapsulating his side’s very forgettable day, the Spanish MARCA newspaper reported.
Source: Oman News Agency