CL round-up: Bayern beat Barca, Juve see off Malmo

Robert Lewandowski scored twice as Bayern Munich opened Group E with an impressive 3-0 win in Barcelona.

Thomas Muller’s deflected effort put the Germans in front in the 34th minute. Lewandowski then scored for the 18th club game in a row in the 56th minute after the ball came back off the post.

The Poland striker grabbed his second five minutes from time when he knocked the ball in after Serge Gnabry’s shot had also hit the upright.

Juventus claimed their first win of the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era by beating Malmo 3-0 with a flurry of first-half goals.

Juventus are yet to win in Serie A this season, the last two games being losses after the departure of Ronaldo to Manchester United.

But Alex Sandro’s 23rd-minute opener was followed by two goals in the space of 60 seconds. Paulo Dybala scored from the penalty spot before and Alvaro Morata added the third on the stroke of half-time.

Juventus will be hoping they can take some of the momentum into Sunday’s Serie A clash against AC Milan.

Juventus' Paulo Dybala scored from the penalty spot against Malmo
Juventus’ Paulo Dybala scored from the penalty spot against Malmo

Cristiano Ronaldo scored again for Man Utd, but they were beaten 2-1 late on by Young Boys in their Champions League opener after Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s red card.

Romelu Lukaku’s second-half header saved an under-par Chelsea as they began their Champions League defence with a 1-0 win over Zenit at Stamford Bridge.

Sevilla were held to a 1-1 draw at home to RB Salzburg after a chaotic first half in which four penalties were awarded, three to the visitors, while the hosts were forced to play most of the second half with 10 men.

Karim Adeyemi missed from the spot early one, but the Austrian’s earned a second penalty in the 21st minute, which Luka Sucic managed to tuck away.

Salzburg then won another penalty just before the break, but Sucic hit the post with his second effort. Sevilla were then awarded a penalty of their own to mark the first time in Champions League history in which four penalties were awarded in the first half.

Ivan Rakitic confidently dispatched his kick to pull Julen Lopetegui’s side level, but the hosts were soon on the back foot again early in the second half when striker Youssef En-Nesyri was sent off for a second booking.

There were a whopping four penalties awarded in the first half between Sevilla and RB Salzburg
There were four penalties awarded in the first half between Sevilla and RB Salzburg

Sevilla ‘keeper Bono made a string of saves as the Spaniards held on for a draw, but Lopetegui’s 10 men could have won the match with a late header from substitute Erik Lamela which went narrowly wide.

In Tuesday night’s other Group F game, Villarreal and Atalanta drew 2-2 at El Madrigal.

Remo Freuler gave the Italians the lead in the sixth minute, but Manuel Trigueros hauled Villarreal level shortly before half-time.

Villarreal – who beat United on penalties to lift the Europa League trophy – equalised through Arnaut Danjuma in the 73rd minute. Robin Gosens, though, struck late to earn Atalanta a point.

Dynamo Kiev saw a stoppage-time goal from Mykola Shaparenko ruled out following a VAR review as they had to settle for a point following a 0-0 draw at home against Benfica.

It finished goalless between Lille and Wolfsburg – but there was late drama after a penalty for the French side deep into stoppage-time was overturned by VAR.

Lille had earlier seen a goal for Jonathan David ruled out by VAR at the start of the second half before Wolfsburg had defender John Brooks sent off for two cautions.

Barca in crisis: Where did it go wrong and what next?

Barcelona have offloaded players left, right and centre – including Lionel Messi – and are still shackled by more than £1bn of debt. Where do they go from here?

Some eight senior players have left the Nou Camp amid a fire sale to bring the club’s wage bill towards something vaguely approaching La Liga’s new rules on financial prudence. None of those departures will be felt anywhere near as much as Messi, who even himself did not expect to move on until the morning it was announced.

That the club’s greatest player should depart in this way, in tears at a hastily-called press briefing to justify the club’s decision, speaks volumes for its decline.

Where once stood an institution that redefined modern footballing philosophy under Pep Guardiola, that even with its influence waning was still content to throw £100m+ on each of Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann in recent years, now sits a club accused by even its new president of “disastrous mismanagement” under his predecessor, and still scrambling to stay on the right side of crippling financial boundaries.

The returning chief, Joan Laporta, was the man who first employed Guardiola, who oversaw Barcelona’s rise back to the top of European football with Messi leading the way. When he took the presidency again last year, this time his job was to pick up the pieces of Josep Maria Bartomeu’s disastrous six-year reign, following his sudden resignation.

He immediately set about mounting an expectations-levelling exercise, once which has proven painful for the club and its fans, and shows little sign of abating for now with the club well over £1bn in debt.

“The base of everything is the previous administration’s disastrous management which we inherited,” he said during Messi’s uncomfortable press conference in early August.

Messi tears at press conference
Lionel Messi was in tears at the press conference announcing his departure

A little over four years ago Barca could field a front three of Neymar, Messi and Luis Suarez, now the bulk of their forward options consist of Sevilla loanee Luuk de Jong, an ageing Sergio Aguero, ex-Middlesbrough striker Martin Braithwaite and Memphis Depay.

Many of those who have kept their roles at the Nou Camp have done so on new reduced terms to keep the club financially viable, to the point where La Liga only permitted Aguero’s registration after the transfer window had shut, once Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba had agreed smaller contracts to lower the wage bill further.

La Liga’s new rules stipulate clubs can spend 70 per cent of their income on wages. With Messi, Barca would have spent 110 per cent, even without him the figure stood at 95 per cent at the start of August. Griezmann, Junior Firpo, Emerson Royal, Ilaix Moriba, Jean-Clair Todibo, Miralem Pjanic and Francisco Trincao have followed Messi and generated around €130m (£111.5m) in sales.

What happened to Barca’s first-choice XI in five years?

GKTer StegenTer Stegen
CMMascheranoDe Jong
STSuarezDe Jong

The problem is not only the huge transfer fees paid out – it is the quality of players who have arrived, or certainly their fit. Coutinho, Dembele and Griezmann, Barcelona’s three most expensive signings for a combined tally of around £350m, have all flopped. “Every year we were a little bit worse,” said longstanding centre-back Gerard Pique last year. Quite so – ending La Liga last season in third was their lowest finish since 2008.

A time for prudence

In 2018, Barcelona became the first club in professional sport to post annual revenues in excess of $1bn (£723m). Three years on and forced to sell for what they can get, Barca have made an €80m (£68.6m) loss on Griezmann in just two years. The pandemic has obviously played its part, but if any club were not ready for a rainy day, they were at the top of the list.

“The days of spending like they have in the last few years are over,” journalist Carles Ruiperez, who has written about Barca’s struggles for Catalonian newspaper La Vanguardia, told Sky Sports. “There is a phrase with which the club summarise the situation: sports policy is subordinate to economic policy until it becomes sustainable again. Obviously, they know that the team is less powerful than last year.”

Barcelona’s summer business would have enraged fans in years gone by, but in this new era of austerity, there is patience to allow Laporta and his board to rebuild the club’s badly damaged foundations.

Things may still get worse before they get better. Last month Laporta announced Barcelona’s debts amounted to €1.35bn (£1.16bn), partly accrued from years of lavish spending under Bartomeu, partly due to the pandemic, and partly down to the cost of keeping Lionel Messi at the Nou Camp throughout most of his career.

“I think there’s probably more cost-cutting to come,” Spanish football expert Terry Gibson told Sky Sports. “I think Barcelona were looking for a better deal from Atletico Madrid for Griezmann which is why it went on so late, and Sevilla are paying some of De Jong’s wages for him to play for Barcelona. It just goes to show how much things have changed.”

The brightest prospects who remain, Pedri and Frenkie de Jong, are strongly linked with moves away from the Nou Camp in the near future. No one knows for sure how long the era of austerity will last, but Laporta’s public estimate is that it will continue for a while yet.

“I think that in a couple of years, the club’s economy will be healthy. It’s a big challenge but we are capable of overcoming it,” he said last month.

Rebuilding from within

How do Barcelona go about rebuilding? As well as cost-cutting, Laporta and manager Ronald Koeman still have a club to run, and seven points from their opening three games, given the financial and emotional turmoil surrounding everything, is a decent return at the start of the new season.

What will be a long-term restoration is being undertaken the traditional Barca way, even if in less-than-ideal circumstances – through La Masia, their world-famous academy. Earlier this month, 18-year-old graduate Ansu Fati inherited Messi’s famous number 10 shirt only 41 appearances into his Barcelona career and 10 months since his last, with a knee injury last November still keeping the forward out of action.

Elsewhere, 18-year-old midfielder Pedri has already become a regular for Spain, while it has been suggested manager Koeman’s contract will only be renewed if Riqui Puig is given more game time in midfield.

“I think if they go down that road which they are and Koeman is embracing that, then I think the supporters will be patient,” Gibson said. “It’s a long tradition for Barcelona to produce their own players, and a certain type of player as well at La Masia.

“The fans won’t pin the blame on Ronald Koeman, they won’t pin the blame on Joan Laporta, the blame has been pinned firmly on the previous regime, and everyone can see their troubles.

Spanish newspaper Sport claims Ronald Koeman views Nico Gonzalez as "a replacement for Sergio Busquets"
Spanish newspaper Sport claims Ronald Koeman views Nico Gonzalez as ‘a replacement for Sergio Busquets’

“We saw two teenage substitutes come on last week, Nico Gonzalez, who is a replica for Sergio Busquets, Gavi, who’s 17 years old, he came on to make his debut. There’s obviously Ansu Fati and Pedri, as well as Ronald Araujo, who is in his early 20s and is an excellent central defender.

“But it makes you realise they were nowhere near being Lionel Messi. It was wishful thinking. It was a dream from Joan Laporta to try and imagine they could keep him.”

Wishful thinking is over at the Nou Camp, reality has well and truly bitten. Can Barcelona come back to their former glories? Of course, but not by throwing money at the problem this time. “We need to not try to win La Liga and the Champions League every year,” one club official told the Financial Times.

This time three years ago, Barca were favourites to win the continental competition, but enter this year’s tournament as 20/1 outsiders. They look likely to make good on scaling back their expectations – but after a summer of chaos and more likely to follow, not necessarily out of choice.

PSG hit out at Tebas over criticism of club’s signings

Paris Saint-Germain have hit back strongly at La Liga president Javier Tebas after he mocked the age of their players and the spending of the French club, by saying he should deal with the debt and “mismanagement” in La Liga.

Tebas, a long-standing critic of Qatar-backed PSG’s spending, told a news conference the club’s spending was dangerous for football after they signed 35-year-old Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid and 34-year-old Lionel Messi from Barcelona during the summer transfer window.

“PSG looks like the league of legends given the age of some players. La Liga has young players like Vinicius (Junior). The problem of PSG, we will solve it. What PSG are doing is as dangerous as the Super League,” Tebas said.

“We will continue to grow despite the departure of Messi. We will work against the club states. These clubs are as much enemies as the Super League.”

A letter from PSG general secretary Victoriano Melero said Tebas was engaged in “diversion” from Spanish football’s own problems and he should also deal with rebel clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona who remain committed to a breakaway European Super League project.

Tebas, who also taken aim at Abu Dhabi-backed Premier League club Manchester City’s spending, has frequently questioned how PSG, who are owned by Qatari Sports Investments, are able to comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations.

“Time after time, you allow yourself to publicly attack the French League, our club, our players together with players of other clubs and the fans of French football; while constantly posting insulting and defamatory statements insinuating that we do not conform to the football financial regulations, amongst other unsubstantiated statements,” Melero wrote in a letter on Wednesday.

Messi showcased his talent in his cameo
Lionel Messi left Barcelona to join PSG last month

Melero said PSG did comply with UEFA and French domestic regulations.

“The French League did not, like your league, wait until recent years to take actions and put in place strong financial regulations,” he insisted.

“It is now publicly-known that certain Spanish clubs and your league are facing unsustainable levels of debt after gross mismanagement, not to mention the way Spanish football has been financed over the past decade including by the State.”

Real Madrid and Barcelona are battling huge levels of debt and have struggled to compete in recent transfer windows.

Antoine Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann was among a number of players to move away from Barca over the summer as the club looked to trim their wage bill

Melero said Tebas was “disrespectfully attacking the players, simply because they decided to leave your competition”, after enjoying the benefits of top players for many years.

“Your remarkable comments on the age of these players not only insults their past and current roles in defining how our great game is played, but also the millions of fans around the world who idolise them,” added the PSG official.

“I am quite surprised you are not focusing more of your attention on the two clubs in your league that remain steadfastly focused on breaking up your league, and European football as a whole,” Melero said.

“We invite you to focus on solving your domestic issues, which you are responsible for, and to stop your transparent and repeated diversion attempts.”

The French League (LFP) also said Tebas should focus on his league’s own problems.

“The LFP asks Mr. Javier Tebas to watch his outrageous statements,” which were “not worthy of the institution he represents,” the LFP said in a statement.

“However, the LFP wishes to point out that the financial largesse from which Spanish clubs have benefited for many seasons and which is at the root of the current problems, is neither its responsibility nor that of Paris St Germain.”

Laporta: Neymar wanted Barca return before Messi exit

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has claimed that Neymar was “keen” on a return to the Nou Camp before Lionel Messi’s shock departure to Paris Saint-Germain this summer.

The Brazilian spent four years in Catalonia, winning two La Liga titles, three Copa del Reys and a Champions League as part of the free-scoring MSN trio alongside Messi and Luis Suarez.

Throughout his stay in Paris he has been regularly linked with a return to the club to reunite with good friend Messi and Laporta has claimed that he spoke with the 29-year-old about re-joining earlier this year before the scale of Barcelona’s financial issues became so apparent.

Lionel Messi, Neymar (AP)
Lionel Messi and Neymar have been reunited at PSG

Neymar has now been reunited with the Argentine at PSG after Barca’s financial problems meant they were unable to offer Messi a new contract, despite agreeing terms on the deal. Now Laporta has claimed that an offer to Neymar was in the works before their interpretation of how they believed La Liga’s Financial Fair Play rules would operate changed.

“We tried to sign Neymar. From the conversations that we had, bringing him here seemed like an attractive proposition and he was keen to come,” Laporta told Esport3.

FC Barcelona club President Joan Laporta pauses during a news conference in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Barcelona announced on Thursday Aug. 5, 2021 that Lionel Messi will not stay with the club. He is leaving after 17 successful seasons in which he propelled the Catalan club to glory, helping it win numerous domestic and international titles since debuting as a teenager. (AP Photo/Joan Monfort)..
FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta

“We interpreted fair play differently, but based on the way [Javier] Tebas [LaLiga president] interprets it, there was no point in making that offer.”

Six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi completed his move to Paris last month after signing a two-year contract – with an option for a third – worth £25m per year after tax, admitting that Neymar helped to persuade him to move to PSG when it became clear his time at Barca was at an end.

Laporta also denied that Messi could have signed his new contract at the club had Barcelona managed to move Antoine Griezmann on earlier in the summer. Griezmann completed a shock return to Atletico Madrid on loan on Deadline Day.

Lionel Messi pictured holding his PSG jersey after a press conference
Lionel Messi pictured holding his PSG jersey after a press conference

The Barcelona president admitted it was strange to see Messi in another shirt when he made his PSG debut before the international break, adding that he has not spoken to the 34-year-old since, but that he did watch his first game for his new club.

“It was weird to see him wear another kit and to know that we won’t have him here,” Laporta said. “It’s a strange feeling and I didn’t enjoy seeing him play for a rival club that we have faced in the past.”

As for Messi’s decision to join PSG, Laporta added: “I didn’t like it. They are our rivals to boot and a team that we’ve faced in the past.”

Ansu Fati takes Messi’s No 10 shirt at Barca

Ansu Fati has been handed Lionel Messi’s No 10 shirt at Barcelona after the Argentine left the Nou Camp for Paris Saint-Germain this summer.

The 18-year-old, a product of the club’s famed La Masia academy, has been out of action since November 2020 after suffering a ruptured meniscus in a win over Real Betis but will take over the iconic jersey upon his return after financial issues prevented Barca from handing Messi a new contract.

Messi himself inherited the No 10 shirt from Ronaldinho after his departure in 2008.

Ansu Fati during the presentation of the FC Barcelona squad for the 2021-22 season, on 08th August 2021, in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Joan Valls/Urbanandsport/NurPhoto).
Ansu Fati will wear the No 10 shirt at Barcelona

Fati, seen as one of the most exciting young prospects in world football, made his debut for Barcelona in August 2019 and became the youngest player to score in La Liga for the club a week later in the 2-2 draw at Osasuna.

He scored his first Champions League goal for Barcelona in the win over Inter Milan in December 2019, becoming the competition’s youngest ever goalscorer in the process. In September last year he also became Spain’s youngest ever goalscorer in his country’s win over Ukraine.

“Ansu Fati has a new shirt number,” a Barcelona statement said. “After wearing the number 22 then 17, the young Barca striker will proudly wear the number 10 shirt – a famous jersey previously worn by legends such as Leo Messi, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo.

“Despite being just 18 years of age and still recovering from injury, Ansu Fati forms part of Barca’s history as a record breaker and also with the Spanish national side.

“Since his debut in August 2019, the youngster has set records in the league and Champions League. Just six days after his debut for the first team he became the youngest ever player to score in the league for FC Barcelona.

“A record breaker who will now wear the magical number ’10’.”

Fati signed a new long-term contract at Barcelona in September last year.

Lionel Messi pictured holding his PSG jersey after a press conference
Lionel Messi pictured holding his PSG jersey after a press conference

Messi was set to extend his 21-year stay at Barcelona by signing a new five-year deal this summer, but the club announced in early August that “financial and structural obstacles” meant the contract could not be fulfilled.

Instead, the 34-year-old signed a two-year contract – with an option for a third – worth £25m per year after tax, plus bonuses at PSG.

He made his debut for the Ligue 1 side on Sunday as Kylian Mbappe scored twice to give the capital club a 2-0 victory at Stade de Reims.