Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona in the Champions League. Has any game epitomized the elite world of football any better than a match between Die Roten and the Blaugrana? The clubs have met eight times before in the grandest stage of European football, each meeting a classic. History favors Bayern, as they have won six of these meetings while Barca has only won two. However, both teams have their fair share of accomplishments.
This article will pick out three games played between the two giants while also offering a historical analysis of the situation around both teams.
Bayern Munich 1-0 FC Barcelona, 21st October 1998
The first-ever game between two teams that would become European rivals within the next 20 years. For the first and only time in history, Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona were in the same group stage of the Champions League.
Bayern Munich, led by Ottmar Hitzfeld, was an extremely good side who was on the path to reaching a Champions League final that season. Barcelona, led by Louis van Gaal, was also a good side who found domestic success that season despite selling Ronaldo to Inter Milan for a then world-transfer record.
Bayern, under Hitzfeld, was a typical German, defensively-solid team that was extremely hard to beat. Oliver Kahn was in goal, Stefan Effenberg ruled the midfield, Mario Basler offered creativity on the wing and Giovane Elber was the goal scorer upfront. Bayern consisted of a German-based squad that epitomized the contemporary national team while having a few brilliant foreigners on their side. The Bayern Munich of 1998 was in many ways similar to the modern Bayern Munich.
While Barcelona was a good side, they were not yet the side who we know as ‘the modern Barcelona’. The Catalans had yet to start the project that would make Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi into household names. By 1998, Barcelona was a side that underperformed on the pitch, sold their best players, and did not have a sustainable model. The only thing that would connect the 1998 side and the modern Barcelona was one 18-year-old academy player who started the game in Munich: Xavier Hernández Creus nicknamed Xavi.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is fascinating to compare the situation of the two sides that played in front of Olympiastadion a cold Bavarian October night. Bayern dominated Barcelona and could have beaten them by much more than one goal. The goal scorer was of course Stefan Effenberg.
FC Barcelona 4-0 Bayern Munich, 8th April 2009
Modern Barcelona can be traced back to the appointment of a new young ambitious president in 2003: Joan Laporta. 2003/04 became the watershed season that helped to pave the road to what is today one of the most valuable sports teams in the world. In 2003, Barcelona had not won a trophy in four years. Backed by Johan Cruyff, Laporta put his faith in a young but inexperienced manager: Frank Rijkaard.
It was an appointment that stayed true to Barca’s historic principles, one that laid the groundwork for Pep Guardiola and his team to flourish.
That team became the best in the world and was by April 2009, just getting started. Upfront, Barcelona had Samuel Eto’o as a number 9 while Lionel Messi and a converted Thierry Henry played on the wing. The midfield consisted of the two men who brought Spain an European Championship title in 2008 after beating Germany in the final: Andres Iniesta and a now 10 years older Xavi.
They faced a Bayern Munich going through a mini-crisis. Jurgen Klinsmann was facing his last days in Munich and it is an era of Bayern Munich history I’ve written about before.
I smile sometimes thinking about how the internet and our (greatly devoted) BFW comment section group would of react to a game like this. Through my short time as a Bayern supporter, I have never seen Bayern be so completely outplayed than they were that night at Camp Nou. In a quarter-final in the Champions League, Barcelona scored four goals within the first 45 minutes and it could have been so much more.
Bayern was extremely unorganized, a team without a plan. Barcelona was the best in the world by a margin. Looking back, it is incredible the game only ended 4-0.
Bayern Munich 4-0 Barcelona, 23rd April 2013
You can say what you want about Louis van Gaal, but you would be mistaken if you think he was bad for Bayern Munich. It could be argued that he laid the groundwork for the Bayern Munich and German national team sides of 2012 to 2014 – two teams that became the best in the world. Van Gaal was the first to change Bastian Schweinsteiger’s position. Back then, Basti was a just relatively slow wide-midfielder and the Dutchman was the first to recognize the Kolbemoor native’s potential to become the best box-to-box midfielder in the world.
Van Gaal was the also first one to give Thomas Muller a serious chance in the starting line-up, and was instrumental in molding a new Dutch signing into the team: Arjen Robben.
While the Dutchman laid the groundwork, Jupp Heynckes carried out the execution. Heynckes took over a talented attacking squad, but the board helped him in his first season (2011-12) with defensive signings such as Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng. In the summer of 2012, the final puzzle piece was complete with the then-Bundesliga record signing of Javi Martinez.
The result of this development transformed a Bayern team that ultimately destroyed a reign of Barcelona dominance.
Because Pep Guardiola’s revolution with Barcelona was over. Guardiola left Barcelona as the most successful coach in their history, but with a successor that knew his tiki-taka playing style well. Tito Vilanova was a good coach, who continued Barcelona’s success in the league but in Europe and the international stage, it was clear that Barcelona’s and Spain’s golden generation was coming to an end.
Bayern crushed Vilanova’s Barcelona. The first game ended 4-0 at the Allianz Arena while the second worsened the scoreline to an overall 7-0 defeat for Barcelona, their largest defeat in Europe in 16 years. A year later, Spain, consisting of the same players that dominated the football world between 2008-2012, was knocked out in the group stages of the 2014 World Cup. The Spanish team lost 5-1 in their first game to the Netherlands, a team that was managed by Louis van Gaal.
Games and developments have of course happened since 23 April, 2013. Pep Guardiola took over Bayern Munich and Luis Enrique took over Barcelona. While finding success domestically with Bayern, Pep did not succeed in Europe and Bayern lost to Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final in 2015. It is important to note, however, that this was a different Barcelona side. Instead of relying on youth academy talents, Barcelona spent hundreds of millions on their side that became the best in the world in 2015.
Today, Bayern look in great shape to continue their dominance in Germany while looking for their first European title since 2013 while Barcelona is still trying to re-find their own identity.
Analyzing historical games between these two giants offers you much more than just results on the pitch. While looking at these games with the benefit of hindsight, it can offer you an understanding of why the tides of European football have changed within the last twenty years.