Jordi Roura's words were bullish but the way that he delivered them was not. "We have total conviction that in Barcelona we'll go through," said Barcelona's assistant coach. "This is a bad result but this team deserves for people to believe in it. We are completely convinced: we'll be at home, with our pitch and our fans. It is not impossible: we can turn this around perfectly." He spoke quietly, flatly; as flat as his team had been. Through the doors, he could surely hear Milan's fans singing.

Down by the players' entrance there were hugs and handshakes. Giampaolo Pazzini pointed to the lump on his head, turning a shade of purple, and grinned. He touched it gently; a war wound he was proud to wear, it no longer hurt. As for Carles Puyol, the man with whom he clashed, he said that four staples and two stitches did not hurt as much as the defeat. "What a blow," shouted Marca, who extended their analysis to Spanish teams in the last 16 of the Champions League more generally: four games, not one victory. Is there a message there?

Of all of those defeats this was the most unexpected, and the reaction was not just about the result itself but the way it came. Barcelona had taken just two shots on goal all night. "It is simple: if you do not shoot you do not score," writes Joan Battle in Sport. "There was no sign of [Lionel] Messi," said Marca, "it was as if he hadn't even played. Nothing he tried came off." It had been a "black night", one headline said. The adjectives tumbled: disastrous, awful, embarrassing.

Roura complained about the pitch repeatedly, calling it "unworthy of the Champions League" and Pedro was unhappy about the referee Craig Thomson but Gerard Piqué was clearer in his assessment: "There is no excuse. We are Barcelona and we have to learn from this. We played badly." He was right. Sport's cover was explicit: "No excuse."

Sure, there is talk of a comeback but the future is conditioned by the past and the past does not invite optimism. It was striking to see a reversal of roles on Thursday morning: AS's cover leads on "Trick or Treat"; Sport says "Comeback needed"; and El Mundo Deportivo calls for "heroics at the Camp Nou." Yet, to judge by the normal narrative, that is not really Barcelona's thing: it is Real Madrid that make much of their remontadas, of the Spirit of Juanito, Madrid not Barcelona that revel in the epic.

Barcelona have never overturned a 2-0 first-leg lead before, although they have come back from 3-0 down three times: In the 1977-78 Uefa Cup against Ipswich, in the 1978-79 Cup Winners' Cup against Anderlecht and most famously in 1985-86 in a European Cup semi-final. That year, Pichi Alonso's hat-trick against Gothenburg salvaged a 3-0 first leg defeat and saw Terry Venables' side through on penalties. Alonso had hardly played; to call him Barcelona's third-choice striker would be generous. That moment has never left him.

It can be done, of course. But recent history is dispiriting. This generation of Barcelona players have not come back from a first leg away defeat before – something that calls into question the usual assumption that it is better to play the second game at home. When they needed to overturn a first leg deficit against Inter and Chelsea in semi-finals they were unable to. Then there's the immediate history: Wednesday night. Barcelona were beaten – and deservedly so. There was no sign of life, no sign of a reaction. Will it be different in a fortnight? This, as the editor of AS insisted, "was not Chelsea." It was not Barcelona either.

"Let them enjoy it while it laughs: their laughs may be sobs in two weeks' time," ran the editorial, written by Enric Bañeres in El Mundo Deportivo. "Milan looked for 0-0 and got a 2-0, they had no scruples about playing as they did, believing the ends justified the means." Mostly, his was a lone voice and even those that might agree insisted that Barcelona should have been able to find a way round that. And, indeed, not so long ago, Barcelona would have found a way round that.

"The sensation is that they are stopping being Barcelona," Alfredo Relaño wrote, Marca said "this isn't Barcelona" and over in Catalonia, Josep Maria Casanovas made much the same point. "We didn't recognise them," he writes, "this was a cheap copy, a pale imitation. They had no ambition, no imagination, no speed … Barcelona thought they were better than Milan and they paid for their attitude. No one could doubt Milan's victory."

Perhaps even more worrying was that you could recognise Barcelona. The warning signs had been there. As one columnist put it: "No one dared to say it, but …" For Santi Giménez, writing AS's match report, Barcelona had fallen for the oldest trick in the book, victims of simple tactics and the assumption that what is good enough in Spain would be good enough in Europe. It is not. Barcelona had been pardillos. There is not an exact translation, but it is something like country bumpkins, gullible fools, idiots.

Circle the words in his match report and it hits you between the eyes: "yawn, yawn", "ridicule", "daft", "obsessed by their own beauty", "falling into a trap". "You cannot play the fool, especially against a team as bad as Milan: how did they manage to let themselves get ripped off by a medicore Milan?" he asks. "Someone should go down to the Barcelona dressing room and tell them: this is the Champions League and here mistakes are punished."