LISBON - Barcelona suffered more European humiliation yesterday after a 3-0 defeat by Benfica left them in serious danger of failing to make it out of their Champions League group.
A hammering in Lisbon, which saw Darwin Nunez score twice, including a second-half penalty, also delivered another heavy blow to Ronald Koeman’s hopes of staying on as Barca coach. Nunez’s double and a smart finish from Rafa Silva consigned Koeman’s team to a second-consecutive 0-3 loss in Group E, after they were thrashed by the same scoreline at the hands of Bayern Munich earlier this month.
Koeman’s tactics will again come under scrutiny, with Gerard Pique substituted after just 33 minutes, seemingly to avoid picking up another yellow card, only for Eric Garcia to be sent off late on for a second booking. Frenkie de Jong, Barcelona’s most creative player for the first half an hour, was also shifted into central defence to replace the departing Pique. It is the first time since 2000 that Barcelona have lost back-to-back group games in the Champions League, which was also the last time the club failed to make the tournament’s knock-out stage.
They have a mountain to climb now to avoid the same fate, sitting bottom of the table, with Benfica four points ahead in second, and a crunch game at home to Dynamo Kiev to come next month. “The easiest thing is to look at the coach, but we are all responsible,” Sergio Busquets said. “We are in a critical situation. We have only played two games but we have zero points. We have two games against Dynamo and we have to win both.”
Whether Koeman is still in charge for that game remains to be seen, given his future is not even secure for this weekend when Barcelona play at Spanish champions Atletico Madrid in La Liga. The club might view the upcoming international break as the more logical time to make a change but, despite Koeman’s pleas for support and perspective, his team have now won only one of their last five games and it appears a matter of when, not if. “I can’t say anything because I don’t know what the club feels about this,” said Koeman. “I can’t answer more questions about this because it’s not in my hands. We’ll see.”
Earlier yesterday, La Liga had laid bare Barcelona’s dire financial problems by slashing their spending limit for this season to 97 million euros (US$112.48 million), the seventh highest in La Liga. But even in adversity there is a baseline level of performance, and Koeman is currently not managing to reach it.
Bayern 5-0 Dynamo Kyiv
Benfica 3-0 Barcelona
Man United 2-1 Villarreal
RB Salzburg 2-1 Lille
Juventus 1-0 Chelsea
Sevilla 1-1 Wolfsburg