Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League in humiliating fashion on Wednesday, losing 3-0 at home to Bayern Munich after Inter Milan’s 4-0 victory over Viktoria Plzen had sealed their fate.
The 3-0 loss at Camp Nou left Xavi’s side with just four points from five games in Group C, six points behind second-placed Inter, ensuring they will drop into the Europa League.
It is the second season in a row in which five-time winners Barcelona have failed to make the Champions League last-16 having previously done it for 17 successive seasons.
This time, though, it could prove even more damaging. Barcelona spent upwards of £130m on new signings in the summer, including the £40m Robert Lewandowski, and their budget for the season factored in a run to the Champions League quarter-finals.
‘The dream has vanished’ – Spanish papers react
Barcelona’s meek exit from the competition prompted an angry reaction from Spain’s sports newspapers, with Catalan daily Sport labelling it a “complete failure”.
Their front page describes the 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich, in which Barcelona didn’t even register a shot on target, as “the saddest game”. The prospect of winning the Europa League “is absolutely no consolation to anybody,” writes journalist Sergi Capdevila.
Mundo Deportivo is similarly downbeat, carrying the words ‘ciao’ and ‘kaput’ on its front page above an image of Sergio Busquets kneeling on the pitch with his head bowed, and describing Barcelona as “victims of their own ineffectiveness”.
“For now,” writes Joan Poqui in his match report from Camp Nou, “Barcelona’s return to European greatness is a dream.” Columnist Santi Nolla, meanwhile, writes: “It is simply a failure.”
Joan Laporta, the club’s returning president, “needed to succeed quickly”, adds Nolla.
“He used the sale of assets to form a squad that could get through the group stage. He was not asked to win the Champions League, but certainly to reach the next phase.
“They can still win La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Europa League, but the great dream has vanished. Barcelona is not ready to compete with the big teams in Europe.”
Elsewhere, L’Esportiu uses the word “penance” on its front page, describing Barcelona as “impotent and incapable of competing with Europe’s elite”.
The Madrid based AS, meanwhile, describes the evening’s events as a “night of terror”, referencing Barcelona’s exit jointly with that of their La Liga counterparts Atletico Madrid, who also crashed out with a 2-2 draw against Bayer Leverkusen in which they missed a penalty deep in stoppage time.
“A nightmare with no end,” writes journalist Santi Gimenez, describing Barcelona’s exit as a “total failure” which ranks as the club’s worst “for a quarter of a century”.
Xavi: Barcelona exit ‘cruel’ | Pedri: It’s a failure
Head coach Xavi described Barcelona’s exit as “cruel”, saying after the game: “We were not at Bayern’s level today. They were better. In Munich we were ourselves, but today they were better, intense.
“The elimination before the game affected us psychologically. Now we train again tomorrow and think about La Liga.
“There were a lot of expectations, but we got a tough group. All sorts has happened to us in the group stage. It has been cruel on us, but we did not compete well today.
“I have said that we have to be united, tackle the situation head on. We have been knocked out of the Champions League but the season does not end in October. There are other competitions.”
Midfielder Pedri added: “Of course, it’s a failure. Barca have to get out of the group and we haven’t because we didn’t deserve to continue in the Champions League.
“We are a very young team, with a lot of room for improvement, we have made great signings, but it has not been enough for us enough to compete in the Champions League and it’s a great disappointment.
“We lack many things, but we have to be self-critical. It is true that in Munich we deserved more, in Milan there were a couple of circumstances… but after seeing what happened today it is clear that we are not prepared to compete in the Champions League.”
Sharma: Wage bill is Barca’s big issue
Barcelona’s huge wage bill is a bigger financial threat to the club than exiting the Champions League at the group stage, according to Spanish football journalist Rik Sharma.
“Almost surprisingly, being knocked out now rather than in the quarter-finals is only around 20 million euros worth of difference for Barcelona in terms of prize money, plus a little bit extra in terms of television revenue and potential sell-out crowds,” Sharma said on Sky Sports News.
“So, if they can get to the Europa League final, it won’t end up being too different. That doesn’t mean that the club aren’t still in big financial trouble. They very much are.
“But the Champions League elimination isn’t really the key factor in that, it’s the massive wage bill they’ve got.
“The big issue for Barcelona, financially, is getting rid of players like Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, even Frenkie de Jong, who they tried to move on in the summer.
“They all have really big contracts that are worth more than the difference of not making it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
“That said, it’s not helpful to not get that extra income. But the 20 million-or-so euros isn’t the thing that’s going to ruin Barcelona. They are in much deeper trouble than that already.”
What now for Barca? Man Utd play-off possible
Barcelona will have to contest a Europa League round of 32 play-off in order to qualify for the last 16, facing one of the teams who finish the Europa League group stage as runners-up.
The play-off will be played over two legs on February 16 and February 23, with the draw taking place prior to the start of the World Cup on November 7.
Barcelona cannot be drawn against another Spanish team in that round, and their possible opponents will change depending on what happens in the remaining two rounds of Europa League group stage games.
But as things stand, the sides currently sitting second in their groups are PSV Eindhoven, Rennes, Ludogorets, Braga, Manchester United, Midtyjylland, Qarabag and Trabzonspor.
Other sides who may yet finish second in their groups include Arsenal, Fenerbahce, Roma, Lazio and Monaco.
Barcelona would be ineligible to face Spanish rivals Real Betis or Real Sociedad, who currently top groups C and E respectively.
Other giants dropping into Europa League
Barcelona are not the only European giant who could drop into the Europa League.
Juventus sit third in Champions League Group H having only taken three points from five games, needing to secure a better result against group leaders Paris Saint-Germain than Maccabi Haifa manage against Benfica in the final round of games in order to avoid dropping out of Europe altogether.
Atletico Madrid are in a similar position to Juventus in Group B, albeit a point ahead of bottom-side Leverkusen, who face surprise leaders Club Brugge in the final game while Diego Simeone’s men take on second-placed Porto.
Ajax and Sevilla, currently sitting third in groups A and G respectively, are also set to drop into the Europa League, while the play-off draw may yet contain Tottenham who sit top of Group D but with only two points separating them from bottom side Marseille ahead of the final round of games.