August 14th, 2020, is a date which will live in Barcelona infamy.
This Tuesday, exactly 13 months to the day, the Blaugrana will be determined to not let history repeat itself when they welcome Bayern Munich to the Camp Nou.
Culers around the world will be watching through their fingers hoping their club has turned a corner.
Granted, there is an important difference in approach between a Champions League group game, and a pandemic adapted one game quarterfinal knockout.
Bayern Munich will feel no pressure in this one, while Barcelona will feel the weight of the world.
For many of the Blaugrana players who featured in the last match, this an opportunity to stand tall, suffer, and get a result to leave the past behind.
Barcelona do not want to leave blood in the water going into their next matches in a complicated group with no guarantee of escape.
Do they have a chance?
Is this the same Bayern Munich powerhouse from a year ago?
New managers with something to prove
Caretaker manager Quique Setien is gone, and Ronald Koeman is in.
Setien went into the last matchup with a conservative 4-4-2 formation.
There were glaring omissions with Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, and Ansu Fati on the bench, while Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez started as forwards, with Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto, and Arturo Vidal behind.
Setien was well aware that Bayern Munich were on a roll under new manager Hansi Flick, who had put the world on notice with a dynamic 4-2-3-1 formation that seemed unstoppable.
The game, however, started well enough after trading early goals, but it was also ominous. Intense, open, back and forth.
Not an environment Barcelona usually thrives in.
After trading a couple early goals, the dam finally broke. Barcelona’s defense was exposed, and the team were battered, beaten, and shell-shocked going into halftime trailing 4-1. The second half was even uglier.
Now Ronald Koeman and Julian Nagelsmann start their runs in a new Champions League campaign.
Koeman has the team back playing a 4-3-3, but with injury woes, may feel it necessary to change the structure.
The question facing the Dutchman is whether he can put together a winning strategy and finally win a big game. In this case, even a draw would be considered a victory.
Nagelsmann isn’t trying to fix what isn’t broken, and has continued on with the 4-2-3-1 that has brought the team so much success.
The German became a rising star at RB Leipzig, but the ceiling is sky high at Bayern Munich, just ask Pep Guardiolia, and it will take something truly special to make his mark.
His team is starting to hit its form in the Bundesliga after a 4-1 thrashing of his former side on Saturday.
Still there is much to prove for both managers, and the Champions League is the biggest prize of all.
Familiar faces from the last go around
Bayern Munich will likely put out a very familiar team, and will play in the same formation, so hopefully Koeman is watching the video to learn and inform his decisions.
Alphonso Davies was a breakout star from the last tournament. He won’t have Nelson Semedo to torment, but if healthy, we may see a North American showdown with Sergino Dest rushing back to health.
Davies got the better of Dest in the last round of World Cup qualifying, which may give Oscar Mingueza the chance to use his size and physicality to stop the Canadian from rampaging down the left flank.
Nagelsmann has been using the same formula as Flick, putting Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka in a double pivot, with Muller in the 10, and Lewondowski up top as the 9.
Possession last time was slightly in Barcelona’s favor at 51%, but Bayern were much quicker with the passing and produced 27 shots, many of which went in.
Can Barcelona absorb pressure to take the sting out of the attack?
One player who will look to feast again, if fit, is Serge Gnabry, who enjoyed a big game last time out playing on the right wing. However, the 26-year-old was replaced with a back problem at the weekend and is a doubt for Tuesday’s match.
Barcelona will have their hands full defending if they can’t slow down the tempo on the day.
All eyes will be on Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto, and Frenkie de Jong who are all but pencilled in to get a second shot at the Bavarians. Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique too if they are fit.
No doubt they are smart enough to identify past mistakes. The question will be whether they have the mental fortitude to not crumble under the pressure, and lead the team with confidence and skill.
Realistically, however, that confident leadership may need to come from players who weren’t on the field on that fateful day.
New players who could make the difference
Memphis Depay is on fire.
He is playing with flair, arrogance, and golden boots that can’t not score goals. Fresh off a hat-trick with the Netherlands, Memphis is proving he can turn a game on its head.
Combine that with the skill and naivete of Pedri, and you have players in a prime position to step up and put respect back on Barcelona’s name.
You could say the same thing for Ronald Araujo who won’t back down from a fight.
These players are the future, and there’s no better time to show it than now.
On Bayern Munich’s side, there are two new players to keep an eye on.
Jamal Musiala and Leroy Sane.
Musiala is being touted as the next big thing in Europe, and is coming off another strong performance against Leipzig where he tallied a goal and an assist.
He’s stealing the show from Sane, who was signed from Manchester City, and is looking to have a breakout year where he finally lives up to the great expectations that have been following him for years.
Given that this is the first group stage game of the tournament, the question will be whether either side really goes for the win, or whether it turns into a conservative tactical battle.
With Benfica and Dynamo Kiev up next, this is a tough group with little margin for error.
Expect the Bavarians to want to put away Barcelona. Anything less than finishing first in the group will be a disappointment for them.
Can Barcelona play the role of the underdog and steal three points?
Underdogs are brave, foolish enough to believe they can take down a giant.
As we enter a new era, this is the first big test.
There are players who need redemption.
A coach who needs a big win on his record.
An opportunity for new Barca legends in the making to avenge the crest.
Let’s see who’s up to the challenge.