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The ghost of Champions League past: Can Barcelona finally shed their demons in Europe?



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The mind plays strange games, and it is not surprising that centuries of work has gone into understanding the same. Fascinatingly, the mentality of a group works queerly similar to that of an individual at many junctures.

Barcelona’s stance with the UEFA Champions League, in a similar analogy, can be compared to a relationship gone sour. The only difference – its mental impact resonates not only in the minds of players but also of millions of supporters across the globe.

A series of unsurmountable blows

All it takes for even the most rosy relationship to crumble and fall apart is one traumatic experience. The budding doubt grows with every subsequent blow, creating an innate fear against the very element one was fascinated by not too long ago.

Barcelona and the Champions League are just the same. For years, the Catalans dominated the competition and were outright favourites to progress deep in the event.

The Lionel Messi-lead side was used to magical moments, and fairytale comebacks and saw the highest of peaks winning two trebles including one sextuple.

But then came Roma. An anguish-filled night where the team’s hopes in the competition came crashing down traumatisingly. A 4-1 lead evaporated, and Kostas Manolas’ goal in the 82nd minute sent the city into shock.

A year later, the team once again led 3-0 over the mighty Liverpool after the first leg in Spain. Surely, another collapse was not on the cards – or so it appeared until a corner was taken quickly and some horrendous defending brought a 4-0 defeat.

Shot to the chest. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

A game against Liverpool broke the already fragile spine of Barcelona.

Jordi Alba’s emotional outburst at half-time when the game was still in hand is widely laughed at, but it simply goes to show how the defeat was not to Liverpool but to the team’s own mental demons.

Having collapsed twice in two years to painful comeback defeats, Barcelona faced the ultimate humiliation in Lisbon in the 2019-20 campaign.

The team’s last two exits in the UCL at least boasted a fight in one leg with some reason to celebrate. The game against Bayern Munich in Lisbon, however, was simply unbearable to watch, let alone play.

Barcelona showed no spine against the German clubs, taking blow after blow almost helplessly as their world crumbled around them. 8-2, a defeat that went down in the history books and tarnished the club’s image for centuries to come.

In 2020-21, not much was expected from the Catalans, for they became synonymous with a club that could not succeed in Europe. Rightly so, they collapsed to PSG in the Round of 16.

The time has come

It took Barcelona a whole two years to return to the knockout stages after the defeat to PSG, as they failed to make it out of the group. They had struck their lowest point, and it was showing in every game the team played in Europe.

When one factors in the storylines, the team’s slow but sure transition, and the pain that players and fans were put through, Barcelona’s win over PSG last week was simply monumental.

For the first time in years, the Catalans demonstrated grip over a game of elite level. Playing against the best team in France, they took the proceedings by the scruff and kept it under control.

To walk away with a 3-2 win at Parc des Princes only made it sweeter. After all the years of collapsing away from home, here finally was a Barcelona that gave hope.

London calls. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

Later tonight, the new Barcelona will be back in action, this time in Montjuic hoping to secure a result that will send even the strongest of supporters into tears. A game that is more than 90 minutes of football and a result that will send a statement across the world.

It has been seven painful years since Barcelona had a respectable position in the Champions League. Andres Iniesta’s place is now taken by Pedri, Gerard Pique’s by a certain Pau Cubarsi while Lionel Messi’s is occupied by Lamine Yamal.

It is a new Barcelona, and there is no better time to overcome the mental block than tonight. For the young core to step up and announce their arrival would be something special, and they are just 90 resilient minutes away.

The clash tonight will be a test of not only Xavi’s side’s quality on the field but also their mental game and fortitude. Every curse has to end one day, and tonight could be the fated occasion Barcelona have longed for years.

A thousand prayers and a million hopes rest at the feet of 11 players who will start on the night. Will they pull it off?

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