Robert Lewandowski wasteful on return as Bayern Munich give Barcelona a reality check

Lewandowski could have had a hat-trick on a different night

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A vision of the future from Bayern Munich, as some recent history repeats itself. The German club once again subjected Barcelona to a reality check, although this 2-0 was a little different to their previous four straight wins. It was probably a bit sweeter, given that Robert Lewandowski’s switch added more edge to the occasion.

His move was supposed to be a sign of an unpopular new Barca perhaps surpassing Bayern, but he instead looked unusually leaden, as the German champions had more youthful vigour in that sense. They also had the exceptional Jamal Musiala, who ran the game, and may now run this team in the Pole’s absence.

You could even say he was the difference, the player who really linked his side in a meeting between two teams who clearly need time to gel. That is why this wasn’t anything like the 8-2 for Barca, or even last season’s humblings, but it was a reality check.

They’re not there yet, even if they’re not that far off.

That isn’t something they can take all that lightly, though, given the presence of a third power in Internazionale in this group. That also brings more pressure than just the threat of early elimination. Joan Laporta’s entire financial plan is based on Barca being a commercially glamorous side that goes the distance in major competitions. The fact they are in a group like those illustrates the inherent risk to this, but also ensured this was more like a classic Champions League game of the 1990s.

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It was two good sides going for it, knowing they needed a result, and didn’t have the usual safety net.

That could apply to some of the players, more used to more forgiving domestic games.

After so much focus on Lewandowski before the game, the new Barca striker won’t want too much emphasis on his performance during it. This will go down as one of his worst nights at this stadium for some time, even allowing for the fact he eventually got a warm applause.

He should really have had a hat-trick. Lewandowski just lacked his usual sharpness. This wasn’t a weak Liga any more.

For the first opportunity, after just a few minutes, the ball sat up for him so invitingly just yards from goal. It was the sort of opportunity he used to gorge on here. Instead, in the first sign something was off, he blazed over. The chance moments later looked easier but was probably more difficult to score from. Lewandowski had a header from point-blank range, but it was right on top of the goal. That meant we had a classic Manuel Neuer stop, rather than a classic Lewandowski goal, as the goalkeeper slapped it away in that defined style.

The forward just couldn’t find his usual finesse, though. When slipped through again by Pedri before half-time, with the area almost opening up, Lewandowski’s touch was poor.

The harsher truth might be that he may have already been replaced as Bayern’s star, but not by Sadio Mane.

The new king is clearly Musiala. The one-time England youth international absolutely ran the game, his ominous roaming so superbly complementing Alphonso Davies’ surges up the line.

Much like Barca, not every Bayern player was so in tune. Mane and Muller fell over each other when trying to finish another superb ball from – of course – Musiala. Leroy Sane’s touch was so often sloppy, with three counters breaking down at his feet.

That would change – although it arguably took the electrical charge of Bayern going head. It perhaps wasn’t a coincidence that came from a set-piece, and one potential Barca issue, rather than any constructed open play. The goal was so bad to give away, though. It was almost gifted. The open space in front of Andre ter Stegen’s goal was certainly surrendered.

Just moments after half-time, Joshua Kimmich swung in a corner, and Lucas Hernandez was left completely unmarked to just head in at the near post.

Bayern were in front, and streaking away. There was about a 15-minute period when they offered a vision of Nagelsmann’s ideal for this team. It was all sharp passes and sudden bursts, at a pace that was too much for Barca’s defence. With holes being punctured throughout Xavi’s defensive structure, Sane suddenly burst through one to then slide the ball past Ter Stegen.

That should have been it, but Barca still created openings. Pedri wasn’t far off Musiala’s level on the night. When the opportunity presented itself to square a simple ball for Pedri to make it 2-1, though, the young midfielder instead chipped indulgently against the post.

Had that gone in, it might have infused Lewandowski’s biggest moment with even more meaning. Barca were awarded a free-kick late in the game, but with enough time for a comeback. Lewandowski stood over it, from exactly the spot he has offered so many similar finishes over the years.

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He this time just hit the wall. Lewandowski was then left standing there, as Bayern – and Musiala – again streaked away.

That was very much a vision of the game.

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