Wednesday, 6 December, 2023

Barcelona to 'start from scratch' after Champions League exit


Munich, Dec 10 : Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez vowed to return the Spanish giants to the pinnacle of European football after they crashed out of the Champions League on Wednesday with a 3-0 defeat at Bayern Munich.
Five-time European champions Barca were eliminated in the group stages for the first time in 21 years. They had reached the last 16 in each season since 2003-04, when they did not qualify for the competition at all.

Goals by Thomas Mueller and Leroy Sane gave Bayern a 2-0 half-time cushion in falling snow at the Allianz Arena, which was devoid of spectators due to high numbers of Covid-19 cases in Bavaria. Teenager Jamal Musiala grabbed Bayern's third after the break to seal Barcelona's fate.

"I'm angry. I don't like that this is our reality now. We start a new era from here - to work hard and get back in the Champions League," said Xavi.
Bayern, who also beat Barca 3-0 at the Camp Nou when the sides met in September, had already qualified for the knock-out stages as Group E winners. They now join Liverpool and Ajax with a perfect six victories from six games in the group stage.

Benfica's 2-0 win at home to Dynamo Kiev means Barcelona finish third and drop into the Europa League.

It was almost eight years to the day since Bayern lost a home Champions League game in the group phase and the Bundesliga leaders were in no mood to be generous.

Xavi, 41, who took charge of struggling Barcelona four weeks ago, has now suffered back-to-back defeats after his first loss as head coach against Real Betis last weekend.

With Joshua Kimmich quarantining after a positive Covid test and Leon Goretzka injured, 18-year-old Musiala played out of position alongside Corentin Tolisso in defensive midfield. Barcelona made a bright start but faded after losing Jordi Alba to injury with half an hour gone, just before Mueller headed Bayern into the lead.

Robert Lewandowski found space on the left of the box and flicked a pass to Mueller who claimed his 50th Champions League goal when his header looped beyond the reach of Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. It was a double blow to the Barca bench who had just learnt Benfica were 2-0 up against Dynamo in Lisbon.

Things went from bad to worse for Barca when Sane hit the net with a powerful long-range shot that deceived Ter Stegen.

Juventus see off Malmo
Juventus completed their Champions League group phase with a largely uneventful 1-0 win over Malmo which allowed them to qualify for the last 16 as Group H winners.
Massimiliano Allegri's side leapfrogged Chelsea to claim top spot after Moise Kean headed the only goal of the game and Chelsea conceded a last-gasp equaliser at Zenit Saint Petersburg.

Malmo finish the group bottom with a single point after Italy forward Kean struck in the 18th minute with his first Champions League goal for Juve, a close-range header from Federico Bernardeschi's delicate cross clipped in with the outside of his boot.

His goal put Juve on 15 points from their six group games, two more than Chelsea who alongside the Italians had already qualified for the knockouts.
Allegri, who picked a second-string line-up featuring 19-year-old Koni De Winter in defence, was less bullish about his team's chances after what he saw as a frustrating performance.

There was precious little excitement on display on a night a cold snap swept across northern Italy, with ground staff at the Allianz Stadium having to sweep off mounds of snow in the hours before the match.

United held by Young Boys
Manchester United were held 1-1 by Young Boys on Wednesday as interim boss Ralf Rangnick blooded a host of youngsters in the Champions League.

With United already assured of top spot in Group F, Rangnick rested all of his key players, making 11 changes from the side that beat Crystal Palace in the first game of his reign.
Mason Greenwood gave a disjointed United the perfect start, but Fabian Rieder's long-range strike just before half-time earned a point for the visitors, which was not enough to keep alive their chances of dropping into the Europa League.

Greenwood, 20, was the senior member of a front three also featuring 19-year-olds Amad Diallo and Anthony Elanga.

Rangnick comes with a reputation for trusting youth. He got an early taste of Greenwood's predatory instincts as the striker acrobatically fired home Luke Shaw's low cross just nine minutes in.

Young Boys' win over United on the opening night of the group had the Red Devils sweating over their progress. They needed a barrage of late goals to take 10 points from their games with Atalanta and Villarreal.

Chelsea and Zenit share a point
Thomas Tuchel admitted Chelsea are struggling to protect their leads after the holders blew the chance to finish top of Champions League Group H in a dramatic 3-3 draw at Zenit Saint Petersburg on Wednesday.
Tuchel's side had already qualified for the last 16 and were hoping to take first place to theoretically secure an easier draw in the knockout stages.

They were just seconds away from achieving their aim when Magomed Ozdoev fired home to leave Chelsea two points behind group winners Juventus.
Timo Werner had put Chelsea ahead after 84 seconds with his club's fastest ever Champions League goal.

Claudinho equalised and Sardar Azmoun handed Zenit the lead before half-time.
Romelu Lukaku, making his first start since suffering an ankle injury against Malmo in October, equalised with his first goal in 11 club games since the Chelsea striker netted against Zenit in September.