Barcelona and Xavi will take the Europa League seriously as route back into Champions League

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PETE JENSON: Barcelona’s demotion to the Europa League has seen them mocked by rivals – but it’s the one trophy they’ve never won, and their only chance of glory this season… as a route back into the Champions League, Xavi WILL take it seriously

  • Barcelona are set for their first UEFA Europa League appearance in 18 years
  • Xavi’s team have been drawn against Napoli in mouth-watering play-off clash
  • There has been a great deal of mockery after Barca’s Champions League exit
  • But the Europa League now represents their best chance of winning a trophy
  • If it delivers them back into the Champions League, they will take it seriously  


When Barcelona first fell into the Europa League last December it felt like punishment for not doing their homework properly – detention, having to stay behind until Thursday night when all the Champions League kids have long gone home.

But a trophy is a trophy, it’s one they have never won, and it’s the only one they can win this season. 

It’s also against Napoli with a second leg in the Diego Armando Maradona stadium – a player who played for both clubs. So there is more than enough reason to take it seriously and Xavi intends to do exactly that.

The UEFA Europa League branding may be unfamiliar to Barcelona bu Xavi wants to win it

The UEFA Europa League branding may be unfamiliar to Barcelona bu Xavi wants to win it

The Catalans make their first appearance in the competition since 2003-04 after being eliminated from the Champions League

The Catalans make their first appearance in the competition since 2003-04 after being eliminated from the Champions League

On Wednesday, he admitted that just hearing the Champions League music winds him up.

His players will be aware of Zenit St Petersburg’s mocking TikTok video showing a Barcelona fan listening to the Champions League music and then quickly changing it to the Europa League music when he was spotted. 

But those jokes will only intensify if they go out early.

There was a strange air about the Camp Nou on Wednesday with the Europa League logo everywhere and the 6.45 pm local time kick-off on a Thursday night will seem just as strange.

But there is the prospect of playing the final on home soil come May and that would give the club the chance to have something to celebrate after such a difficult year. 

A man depicted as Barcelona is seen listening to the Champions League anthem

Then, a man depicted as Zenit St Petersburg is seen entering the room with a disapproving look

In a clip posted to TikTok, the Zenit mocked Barcelona for their recent fall from grace

The man depicting Barcelona then switches to Europa League anthem, in a dig at their plight

The man depicting Barcelona then switches to Europa League anthem, in a dig at their plight

Reminded of his 100 days in the job so far Xavi said it ‘felt like 100 years’. It will feel a little more worth if there is silverware in the spring.

Barcelona are not favourites. Why would they be when they only managed two goals in the Champions League group stage? 

They are scoring more freely now but they have problems at the other end with a fragile defence creaking every time any decent strike force applies any sort of pressure.

Napoli have that attack and they also have other characteristics that could cause Barcelona problems.

When Xavi said on Wednesday: ‘They are a very compact team. They want the ball, but they defend very well in a low block. They also have a good counter-attack. They’re quick, physically strong and up front they can surprise you,’ he was pretty much describing exactly the sort of side that Barcelona don’t fare well against.

Dani Alves shows off the Europa League-branded football used by Barcelona in training

Dani Alves shows off the Europa League-branded football used by Barcelona in training

The Nou Camp is bedecked in unfamiliar Europa League branding ahead of Napoli's visit

The Nou Camp is bedecked in unfamiliar Europa League branding ahead of Napoli’s visit 

Barca were humbled home and away by Bayern Munich as they exited the Champions League

Barca were humbled home and away by Bayern Munich as they exited the Champions League

And they will be without the injured Ronald Araujo who is their quickest defender. 

There is also no Dani Alves who was omitted from the squad to squeeze in more forwards. Adama Traore and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were registered and both will start tonight.

‘We were unlucky in the draw because this could be a Champions League tie,’ Xavi added. But that might even play into Barcelona’s hands. 

They were favourites to fare well in the Champions League, seasons after the tag was really merited. Now they are, as Xavi said on Wednesday, just ‘candidates’.

After Atletico Madrid succumbed to bottom club Levante Barcelona remained in the Champions League spots in the league. 

Luuk de Jong scored deep into stoppage time to earn Barcelona a 2-2 draw at rivals Espanyol

Luuk de Jong scored deep into stoppage time to earn Barcelona a 2-2 draw at rivals Espanyol

Barcelona have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in their ranks as they bid for Europa League glory

Barcelona have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in their ranks as they bid for Europa League glory

Another new arrival, Adama Traore, has been added to the squad and will play against Napoli

Another new arrival, Adama Traore, has been added to the squad and will play against Napoli

With Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis and Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla both going well behind leaders Real Madrid it does appear it is going to be Xavi or Diego Simeone for that last Champions League 2022-23 ticket.

That’s why the Europa League also needs to be taken seriously as a back door entry if it’s needed.

The last time Barcelona were not in the Champions League it was 2004 and they were knocked out by Celtic in the last-16 in what was the first year of Frank Rijkaard’s stint in charge. Xavi played in both legs as he was reminded on Wednesday.

‘We have never won it. Let that serve as a motivation,’ he said.

Ronaldinho and Co were beaten by Celtic the last time they played in the UEFA Cup in 2004

Ronaldinho and Co were beaten by Celtic the last time they played in the UEFA Cup in 2004

There will be more jokes on social media if they fall at the first hurdle. But if they progress the fact that it’s now the Europa League music and not the Champions League anthem that sounds in the stadium before kick-off will hurt less.

Barça have changed their tune too since December. They want to end the season winning something and May 18 in Seville in the Europa league final is their only chance.

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