Barcelona is one of the biggest soccer clubs globally, but they face a nervous wait to find out if they’ll qualify for the next round of the Champions League.
This season, the famous Spanish team has endured utter misery from losing Lionel Messi before the big kick-off to tumbling as far down as seventh in La Liga. That doesn’t sound bad, but it is a disaster for a team that has only finished outside the top four once since the turn of the century.
There’s a long way to go before the end of the season, and their recent change of manager could help. Ronald Koeman left after they appeared to be on the cusp of failing to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages, with Xavi coming in. ESPN reports that Xavi is confident of progress to the final stages of the competition, but that confidence may be misplaced.
The Blaugrana face Bayern Munich in their final group game, needing a result to ensure progression. Their most recent game at Camp Nou could have seen them progress, but Benfica held them to a 0-0 draw. The Portuguese side host group whipping boys Dynamo Kyiv is Lisbon, knowing that a win moves them onto eight points. Barcelona is currently on seven, with an equal goal difference. If Benfica wins, then Xavi needs his team to beat Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.
That might not sound impossible, but the two previous meetings between the clubs ended 8-2 and 3-0 in the German team’s favor. Julian Nagelsmann’s side is ranked as the second favorite to win the tournament by Bwin Sports and has five wins from five in the tournament so far. They’ve scored 19 goals, conceded just three, and they’ve only been beaten at home twice since December 2019. The task facing Barcelona is huge.
“What makes me most optimistic is seeing the team playing in this way,” Xavi said in his press conference after struggling to beat Benfica. “Playing like this, we can compete with anyone. Seeing what I’ve seen [against Benfica], we can go to Munich and win. The positive news is we still depend on ourselves.”
If Benfica does beat Kyiv, and Barcelona does not win in Munich, it would mean a failure to advance from the competition’s group stages for the first time since 2001. On that occasion, they dropped into the old UEFA Cup, where they advanced to the semi-finals. All would not be lost this season; they’d end up in the Europa League, so their European odyssey wouldn’t quite be over. That would be scant consolation for their fans, who are used to success, but it would at least mean a competition for Xavi to get his teeth into.
Barcelona’s trouble stems from its significant wage bill and restrictions on spending by the La Liga rules. They were unable to retain the services of Lionel Messi, and their big summer capture, Sergio Agüero, retired recently after playing five games and scoring once.
Sadly, fans of one of the world’s most successful clubs might have to be content with a season or two of rebuilding unless Xavi can do what so few have in recent years; beat Bayern Munich in their own backyard.