May European nights become magical again and stop being torture. Overcome the torment. Not so long ago the Champions League was synonymous at Can Barça with hope, magic, fascination and a promise of fun. Barcelona needs its European matches to once again be a reward and not the punishment that has shrunk it lately. Xavi Hernández looks at the faces of his players before tonight's debut against Royal Antwerp and sees excitement and joy. “Enjoy, have fun and work,” the coach prescribes, wanting to consolidate what was seen in the hand of Betis.
However, the anthem, the logo, the colors and even the Champions League ball have become a trauma for the club and its fans in recent times. Barcelona has fallen two years in a row in the group stage and has not passed a tie in the top competition since 2020. Therefore, the coach believes that in this season Barça must once and for all reclaim its place among the best on the continent . “It's time to take a step forward. We have to believe it completely to become great again. “It is the perfect scenario,” he points out. It is an opportunity and an obligation. Especially after the squad that has been put together, although the Blaugrana club is the one that has invested the least of the 32 teams in the group stage (only 3.4 million).
There is no room for the fear of relapse or experiencing another blow in the mind of Xavi, an optimist by birth. “It's a challenge and I like challenges,” he defines it, although he knows that he also tests himself after winning only 4 of his 16 international matches – in the League he has more than 70% of victories. He helps the big game against Betis, but he also doesn't want the urgency of the environment to take over his team. “We can become obsessed. We must move and give continuity to what was on Saturday, that is the way. The first year (21-22) we didn't have enough. The second gave us but we did not compete. We played well but we didn't have results. Now we really have to compete”, he puts it as his duties.
“We must soon get rid of the discomfort of recent times in Europe and show credentials,” advises Oriol Romeu, one of the new ones, who has seen the constant continental setbacks from the outside.
At the moment, the coach does not want to think about being a favorite to reach the Wembley final. He goes step by step and after the latest experiences (Rome, Turin, Anfield, 2-8 in Lisbon, PSG, Bayern...) it seems reasonable. “We haven't qualified for two years so the objective is clear: get through the group. You have to be in the round of 16 hype and then we'll talk,” he stated.
Eight seasons have passed since the final in Berlin, the last of the club's five European Cups. Only Ter Stegen and Sergi Roberto are still in the squad. And Xavi, who experienced it as a player, does not hide that it cannot be. “The demands at Barça are brutal, the bar is very high. It is a consequence of the most brilliant stage of our club. From 2006 to 2015, four Champions Leagues were won. You have to accept it,” he recalled.
Barça went from being badly accustomed to getting used to not measuring up. However, the Egarense coach does not detect having lost prestige on the international scene. “When we went to Munich or to the Inter Milan field I saw that they had respect for us because of how they played us. Now we are the champions of the League. We have strengthened ourselves well but this is not about words but about demonstration. At the very least, you have to compete,” Pechó said.
For this revalidation, Xavi is clear that the mirror in which to look at himself must be the last game, the 5-0 against Betis. “At the level of Saturday or how we played last year in the Spanish Super Cup (3-1 against Madrid in Riyadh) it will allow us to compete in Europe,” he assured. Although it also lowered the euphoria a point. “Against Betis we did many excellent things but not everything,” he warned.
Barcelona has not yet recovered Araújo in defense – he will reappear against Celta – but they have all the forwards on a roll. “It's a blessed problem for me that there are so many people in good shape. The front four scored and Lamine Yamal (who can debut in Europe at 16 years old) is in a great moment. It's difficult for me to play eleven. Everyone is plugged in and that makes me proud. I have a choice,” he stated. Antwerp measures the new enthusiasm and competitiveness of Barça, which wants to be great but without taking its feet off the ground.