Let the European nights be magical again and stop being torture. Overcome the torment. Not so long ago, at Can Barça the Champions League was synonymous with hope, magic, fascination and a promise of fun. Barcelona needs the European matches to be a prize again and not the punishment that has shrunk it recently. Xavi Hernández looks at the faces of his players before tonight's debut against Antwerp and sees excitement and joy. "Let them enjoy themselves, have fun and work", the coach instructed them, eager to consolidate what was seen in the match at Betis.
However, the anthem, the logo, the colors and even the ball of the Champions League have become a trauma for the club and the fans in recent times. Barcelona have fallen in the group stage two years in a row and have not made it past a knockout stage in the top competition since 2020. For this reason, the coach believes that this season Barça must claim once and for all their place among the best on the continent. "It's time to take a step forward. We have to believe it completely to be great again. It's the perfect scenario", he points out. It is an opportunity and an obligation. Especially after the squad that has been put together, even though the Barcelona club has invested the least of the 32 teams in the group stage (only 3.4 million).
There is no room for the fear of relapsing or of living another bald time in the mind of Xavi, an optimist by birth. "It's a challenge and I like challenges", he defines it, despite the fact that he knows that he is also being examined after winning only 4 of his 16 international matches - in the League he has more than 70% of victories -. The big game against Betis helps, but he also doesn't want the urgency of the environment to take over his team. "We can become obsessed. We need to move the Saturday game to the field and give it continuity, this is the way. The first year (21-22) we didn't get there. The second we did get there but we didn't compete. We played well but we didn't get results. Now we do have to compete", he puts in as homework.
"It is necessary to quickly get rid of the discomfort of recent times in Europe and show credentials", advises Oriol Romeu, one of the new ones, who has seen from the outside the constant continental patadas.
At the moment, the coach does not want to think about being a favorite to reach the Wembley final. It goes step by step, and after the last experiences (Rome, Turin, Anfield, 2-8 in Lisbon, Paris, Bayern...) it seems reasonable. "It's been two years since we qualified, so the goal is clear: to get through the group. You have to be in the hype of the round of 16 and then we'll talk about it", he quoted.
Eight seasons have passed since the Berlin final, the last European Cup of the club's five. Only Ter Stegen and Sergi Roberto remain in the squad. And Xavi, who experienced it as a player, does not hide that it cannot be. "The demands on Barça are beastly, the bar is very high. It is a consequence of the most brilliant stage of our club. From 2006 to 2015, they won four Champions Leagues. You have to accept it", he recalled.
Barça went from being unaccustomed to not being up to par. Despite this, the Egarenco 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 respected us for the way they played us. We are now the champions of the League. We have strengthened ourselves well, but this is not about words but about showing. At the very least, you have to compete", he said.
For this revalidation, Xavi is clear that the mirror in which he should look 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 in Madrid in Riyadh) we will be able to compete in Europe", he assured. But it also lowered the euphoria a little. "Against Betis we did many excellent things but not everything", he warned.
Barcelona still do not have Araújo back in defense - he will reappear against Celta - but they have all the strikers in a row. "Blessed problem for me, that there are so many people in good shape. The front four scored and Lamine Yamal (who can make his European debut at 16) is on a roll. It's hard for me to make eleven. They are all 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 big but without taking its feet off the ground.