On Wednesday night against Dynamo Kiev, Barcelona did what it desperately needed to do: It survived.
The 1–0 win wasn't pretty—actually it was far from pretty, whether by Barça's lofty tiki-taka standards or not. It wasn't easy. But it was a step forward, and there hasn't been a whole lot of that for Barcelona in the last year.
Effectively playing for its Champions League life in the third match of the group stage, Barcelona left it to one of the few remaining stars who were part of the glory days to get the three points that will allow it to breathe for at least another matchday. Gerard Piqué's back-post run and sliding volley in the 36th minute was all it took, and maybe it won't be remembered as such, but the goal—Barcelona's lone goal in three group matches and first after 216 minutes of play—may have bigger repercussions than we can imagine at the current moment.
When Barcelona was drawn into a group with Bayern Munich, it was clear that it wasn't going to be the favorite to emerge in first. But with Benfica and Dynamo Kiev filling out the group, Barça was still expected to finish in the top two. After losing the first two group games to Bayern and Benfica by matching 3–0 scorelines, though, Barcelona knew it would have a fight on its hands to prove that it was even worthy of advancing to the knockout stage.
It would be one thing if it were playing against an upstart newcomer like Sheriff in Champions League, but Barcelona has seen plenty of Dynamo Kiev, winning the sides' last four meetings. Typically, a Barcelona-Dynamo game at Camp Nou would have been a formality to award three points to the Spanish giants. On Wednesday, it was a slow-burning struggle that lacked rhythm and any sense of urgency.
But the three points still went their way, and sometimes, that's all you can ask for.
It is strange for Barcelona to celebrate a win against the Ukrainian side, with or without Messi. It's even stranger to consider it a big win. But a sigh of relief is in order. A loss or a draw would've been a near-catastrophic result for Barcelona, given that the club's financial stewards have reportedly accounted for reaching the quarterfinals and reaping the stage's prize money in its budget.
According to Spanish outlet Sport, Barcelona is looking at a roughly €20 million ($23 million) boost for making the final eight. It's a paltry sum for the Barcelona of old. But this is not the Barcelona of old, which was also made evident in its lackluster performance. This is a now club whose biggest signings were free transfers this summer, a club that lost one of the greatest players to ever play the game due to its financial instability.
It could be enough to help continue to finance its budding core of La Masia phenoms, teenagers like Ansu Fati, Pedri and Gavi (the former two are now signed through 2027 and 2026, respectively, each with staggering $1.1 billion release clauses). It could be enough to spark a move for a winter transfer that bolsters a struggling back line. It could be enough to watch the club mismanage more funds, but at least the option is there.
And then there's the prestige factor. Dropping points at home would have likely resulted in the club missing out of the Champions League knockout stage for the first time in 21 years (save for the 2003–04 Champions League it was not part of, the last time it failed to get out of the group was 2001–02). Such a calamity would have shown that losing Lionel Messi this summer was not the grand finale in Barcelona's downfall, but just the very beginning.
Rather, three points in Matchday 3 give Barcelona a chance to continue its rebuild with positive results required to show that the club is finding its way out of the mess. Still, the return trip to Kiev awaits in two weeks—and the Ukrainian side will come away from the Camp Nou knowing that it can hang with Barça. But the real showdown for Barcelona is not likely to come on the final group stage matchday against Bayern, but in late November when it hosts Benfica. That is surely a fixture the club is looking toward as a turning point, especially as Bayern runs away with the group following its 4–0 triumph over Benfica later Wednesday.
And speaking of looking ahead, El Clásico is this Sunday, and surely, the Barcelona fans who looked just as lethargic as the club on Wednesday night will be looking for another step forward. After all, in such a rivalry, survival is the least of their expectations.
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