Clasico Thrashing Could Change Everything For Barca, Says Xavi


Barcelona’s Spanish coach Xavi gestures during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022.
JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Xavi Hernandez said Barcelona’s 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid could be transformative for the club after their Clasico demolition at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Barcelona blew Madrid away as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice either side of goals from Ronald Araujo and Ferran Torres.

The match was billed as a test of Barca’s progress under Xavi and they passed with flying colours, a humiliation of their fiercest rivals suggesting they are primed to challenge again for La Liga next season.

“It can change the dynamics of the present and the future,” said Xavi. “We had lots of chances and we were much better than Madrid, far superior. We deserved to score so many goals.”

Asked if Barcelona are back, Xavi said: “It can be. This is the right path.”

And while the result might have little bearing on the title race this term, a defeat of this magnitude, at home, and against Barcelona, will cause serious reverberations at Real Madrid.

It will go down with other historic Clasico thrashings, like when Barca won 6-2 at Real Madrid in 2009 under Pep Guardiola or 5-0 at home two years later.

Questions will be asked about Carlo Ancelotti’s future, with Madrid outplayed tactically and technically by Xavi’s Barca, who were faster, slicker and, perhaps most worryingly, could easily have won by more.

“We played badly and I planned the game badly,” said Ancelotti. “I am sorry for the defeat and I am sad. But we have to keep it in perspective.”

READ ALSOAubameyang Scores Brace As Barcelona Humiliate Real Madrid


Barcelona’s Spanish forward Ferran Torres (R) celebrates with Barcelona’s Gabonese midfielder Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (L) and Barcelona’s French forward Ousmane Dembele (C) after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Madrid were admittedly without the injured Karim Benzema and Ferland Mendy while there could have been a degree of complacency, given they kicked off nine points clear at the top of the table after Sevilla were held to a goalless draw by Real Sociedad.

But none of that will excuse a loss as dramatic as this one, the only relief now that a resurgent Barcelona are still 12 points behind, albeit with a game in hand.

Aubameyang’s double means he now has nine goals in 11 games for Barcelona and the Gabon striker is looking like a superb January signing.

Pedri was outstanding again too — but this was a night for the bigger picture, as Barcelona’s revival made its biggest statement so far.

When Barca were beaten by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup in January, the Catalans were criticised for celebrating the manner of their narrow defeat.

“We are getting closer,” said Gerard Pique.

After five consecutive losses to Madrid, a win of any kind was the next step for Barca but a hammering like this could be transformative, delivering a huge boost to confidence, vindication of Xavi’s project, and optimism for next season all in one fell swoop.

‘We Are Back’ 

Barcelona’s players celebrate after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Shortly after the final whistle here, Pique tweeted: “We are back.”

Eder Militao clattered Pedri in the opening minute and that was about as close as Real Madrid got to him all game.

Soon, the chances started coming for Barca as Ferran Torres pulled back for Aubameyang but he scuffed straight at Thibaut Courtois, who then had to palm wide a curling effort from Ousmane Dembele.

Barca’s dominance was growing and in the 29th minute, they scored, Dembele racing round the outside of Nacho Fernandez and crossing for Aubameyang to head in.

Vinicius Junior might have changed the game if he had converted after being sent through but a heavy touch allowed Marc-Andre ter Stegen to save.

Instead, Barcelona doubled their lead when Ronald Araujo headed in from a corner before half-time and after it, the humiliation began.

David Alaba and Militao both committed themselves to sliding tackles and both missed, Aubameyang executing a superb flicked pass to Torres, who made no mistake.

Worse was to come, as Pique’s ball over the top allowed Aubameyang to scoop in a brilliant finish for a fourth in the 51st minute. Madrid thought they were spared by the offside flag but VAR intervened and the goal stood.

Aubameyang, Torres, and Dembele could all have furthered the embarrassment for Madrid, the latter poking wide after skipping in behind and holding off Militao.

By then, Aubameyang had gone off, the victory already complete and the stadium quickly emptying.

AFP

Clasico Demolition Vindicates Barcelona, Shifts Doubts To Real Madrid

Barcelona’s players celebrate after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

A Clasico that was supposed to mean very little, in the end, meant an awful lot as Barcelona gave a resounding answer to questions about their revival and instead left Real Madrid shrouded in doubt.

Most believed there was no result on Sunday that could derail Madrid’s march to the La Liga title but even that feels less certain now. A defeat like this, 4-0 at home, and against Barcelona, was perhaps the only kind that might prompt a collapse.

In that regard, Madrid will be relieved, not only that Barca are still points 12 points adrift, albeit with a game in hand still to play, but that a two-week international break gives them some breathing space, time to stabilise and recover.

It will allow Karim Benzema time to recover too, with the Frenchman’s absence undoubtedly a factor in Madrid’s spinelessness against Barcelona, who took advantage to devastating effect.

Barca’s place in the top four is surely now secure, which will be celebrated by the club’s accountants as much as anyone else.

For all the excitement and enthusiasm generated by Xavi’s team on the pitch, the harsh reality is the club’s financial ills will take longer to cure. Only last week La Liga set Barcelona’s spending limit at -144 million euros.

READ ALSOAubameyang Scores Brace As Barcelona Humiliate Real Madrid

Barcelona’s players celebrate after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022. PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP 

 

They will certainly believe second place is now a realistic target, particularly given Sevilla’s stuttering form.

They might even look at Madrid’s remaining fixtures to come against Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano and wonder if the comeback could yet be on.

“If there is the slightest option to take advantage, we will go for it,” said Sergio Busquets.

More likely, though, is the consequences of this result for both clubs will be longer-term and wider-reaching.

As Barcelona celebrated at the full-time whistle, saluting their fans up in the highest corner of the Santiago Bernabeu, one or two of the younger players began to jump and dance. Before others could join, a huddle was formed and when the players emerged, it was noticeable the celebrations were more restrained.

As Xavi said after the match, it had been a statement victory, one that will go down with even the most dramatic Clasico hammerings, but the table alone shows there is more work to do.

“We have not won a trophy here,” said Xavi. “We must keep working with humility.”

Yet Gerard Pique, never one to hide his opinions on social media, could not resist. “We are back,” he tweeted, while inside the changing rooms the players were ecstatic, among them Ousmane Dembele, who did not look like a player about to leave for free in the summer.

A victory and a performance like this will make current players eager to stay and potential targets want to come.

The problem for Barcelona is, for all the attractiveness of Xavi’s project, they will be restricted again to the kind of opportunistic deals that they struck in January with such success.

Barcelona’s Gabonese midfielder Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with eight goals in 11 games, has been a revelation.

But to keep pulling off similar deals will be difficult. Barcelona might well be contenders again in La Liga next season but the gap to Europe’s most rich and powerful will take longer to close.

Perspective was the keyword afterwards for Carlo Ancelotti too, who reeled off Real Madrid’s achievements so far this season like a coach who knew he was suddenly under scrutiny.

It is a testament to the depth of the rivalry between Spain’s two biggest clubs that for some, a whole season’s work can be undone in 90 minutes.

“I am very sorry for the defeat, I am very sad but I keep it in perspective, which is that we have a nine-point lead in the league and we’re in the quarter-finals of the Champions League,” Ancelotti said.

The two legs against Chelsea certainly assume greater significance now and it remains to be seen how much confidence is affected for the first game at Stamford Bridge, which is Real Madrid’s second match back after the break.

They will need Benzema fit and firing, with the Clasico underlining the failure of the club to sign suitable cover for the 34-year-old, and of Ancelotti to integrate his possible replacements. The plan to field Luka Modric upfront backfired completely.

Any doubts Real Madrid president Florentino Perez had about Ancelotti’s future longer-term will come into sharper focus, particularly if he thinks one of the world’s most impressive coaches like Mauricio Pochettino, Erik Ten-Haag, or even Thomas Tuchel could be lured in the summer.

Perez has opted for more conservative appointments in recent years, to oversee smooth transitions and to accommodate an iconic group of ageing players, but what the Clasico showed was Xavi’s Barca are a threat that cannot be ignored now. Madrid might also have to be bolder to confront it.

AFP

Barcelona’s ‘Doors Are Open’ To Messi – Xavi

In this file photo, Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi looks on prior to the French L1 football match between Paris-Saint Germain (PSG) and Girondins de Bordeaux at The Parc des Princes Stadium, in Paris on March 13, 2022. (Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP)

 

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said on Saturday “the doors are open” to Lionel Messi.

Xavi was speaking in a press conference ahead of the Clasico on Sunday when Barca face La Liga leaders Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Messi has endured a disappointing season at Paris Saint-Germain although Barca’s dire financial situation would make re-signing the Argentinian difficult.

La Liga’s latest spending restrictions published last week set Barcelona’s limit at -144 million euros ($159 million). It means the club will have to make considerable savings to sign anyone in the next transfer window.

Messi was let go last year because Barca could not afford to renew his contract, bringing an emotional end to the striker’s historic career at Camp Nou.

Asked if he would open the door to Messi coming back, Xavi said: “He is the best player in history and the history of the club, he’s earned the right to have the doors open to him.

READ ALSO: Messi Absent As Monaco Thrash PSG

“As long as I am coach the doors are open to him if he wants to come any day. He is the best in history and as a club we owe him a great tribute, he deserves it, but he has a contract with PSG, so there is little more I can tell you.

“If he wants to come any day, to see training, talk to the coach, the doors are open because he is the best player in the history of the club.”

Without Messi, Barcelona struggled for much of the season but Xavi, who was appointed in November, has overseen a significant upturn in form.

 Real Without Injured Benzema 

Barca sit third, on course to qualify for next season’s Champions League, and will be hopeful of landing a statement victory against Real Madrid, who will be without their star striker Karim Benzema.

Benzema is out with a calf injury and will not be risked, allowing the Frenchman the international break to recover for the run-in and Champions League quarter-finals against Chelsea.

“Tomorrow he can’t play because he hasn’t trained,” said Carlo Ancelotti on Saturday. “He still feels a little discomfort, it’s a small injury, but it won’t let him train and obviously he won’t play either.”

“The fact that he doesn’t play tomorrow doesn’t worry me because it means we will have two weeks to get him ready for the end of the season when he will be very important as always,” Ancelotti added.

Xavi said Benzema’s absence would be a “significant blow” for Real Madrid while confirming that Gerard Pique will be available for Barca.

“He’s fine, he has some minor discomfort, but he’s fine,” said Xavi.

Despite winning their last four consecutive league games, Barcelona are 15 points behind Real Madrid in the table, albeit with a game in hand.

They could overhaul stumbling Sevilla to finish second but a late title charge appears almost impossible.

“We cannot rule Barcelona out, they will fight until the last game,” said Ancelotti.

“Winning the league is unlikely,” said Xavi. “I think will be difficult.”

But there is an opportunity for Barcelona to show they are ready to challenge for the title again under Xavi next season.

“We have grown as a team since I arrived but it doesn’t mean anything, it’s a Clasico and we have to show our personality,” Xavi said.

“It is a chance to show we are in a good moment because we have had good results but tomorrow is another litmus test, to prove that against another big team, we can play and impose our game.”

Xavi added: “Otherwise I know the media and they will say the improvement has not been seen in the most important game of the season.”

AFP

‘Not Impossible’: Resurgent Barca Eye La Liga Title

In this file photo, Barcelona’s Gabonese midfielder Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring his team’s fourth goal during the UEFA Europa League knockout round play-off second leg football match between SSC Napoli and FC Barcelona at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium in Naples on February 24, 2022. ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

 

La Liga has adopted a familiar look with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid back in the top four and both teams might now begin to believe they can finish second as Sevilla continue to stumble.

Barcelona, in particular, look primed for a late surge after winning four games on the bounce, their January signings giving them a boost just when they needed it most.

They still have seven points to overturn to reach second but Xavi Hernandez’s side do have a game in hand, as well as a meeting with Sevilla to come next month at Camp Nou.

Such is the optimism around Barcelona that Xavi was even asked on Wednesday if they could yet win the title, although for Real Madrid to spurn a 15-point advantage with 11 games to go, 12 in Barca’s case, seems unthinkable.

“Mathematics say that we can win the league, so why not?” Xavi said. “The others are failing but not Real Madrid. They have time on their side. It’s very difficult, but not impossible.”

READ ALSOGuardiola Sympathises With Chelsea’s Tuchel After Sanctions

In this file photo, newly-appointed FC Barcelona’s Spanish coach Xavi Hernandez (R), flanked by FC Barcelona’s Spanish president Joan Laporta, poses with his jersey during the presentation ceremony at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on November 8, 2021. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Still, a second-place finish would mark an impressive turnaround for Barca and Xavi, who took over in November with the team lying ninth. If the league began on January 1, Barcelona would be top.

They should continue their strong run at home to 11th-placed Osasuna on Sunday, with their next game at Real Madrid on March 20, after the second leg against Galatasaray in the Europa League.

“La Liga and the Europa League are the two goals but the first is to be in the Champions League next year,” said Xavi. “We’re already third and the goals now are the two remaining titles. La Liga doesn’t lie to you.”

Madrid had been giving encouragement to the chasing pack after winning only three out of seven games between December and February.

But their 4-1 trouncing of Real Sociedad last weekend was ominously convincing while a momentous comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday hardly suggested a team about to let up.

With Karim Benzema fit and firing again, Madrid, who play at Mallorca on Monday night, look more likely to extend their eight-point cushion in the coming weeks than throw it away.

“Karim is back to being the best Karim, the Karim he was before his injury,” Carlo Ancelotti said on Tuesday.

Sevilla Stumbling

They have rarely felt any sustained pressure from Sevilla, who have drawn five out of their last seven league games and against lesser opposition too. Valencia, Celta Vigo, Osasuna, Espanyol and Alaves were all able to claim a share of the spoils against Julen Lopetegui’s side.

That has allowed Madrid to cruise clear and leaves Sevilla suddenly looking down rather than up. A visit to Rayo Vallecano, who are on a dreadful run themselves, should at least get them back to winning ways on Sunday.

Atletico Madrid still face a scrap to qualify for the Champions League, despite their 3-1 victory over fellow top-four hopefuls Real Betis last weekend.

That puts Atletico two points ahead of Betis but the scoreline flattered Diego Simeone’s side, who have an awkward game at Cadiz on Friday, four days before their second leg against Manchester United in the Champions League. It might be too soon to think Atletico have turned a corner.

Betis will want to keep up the pressure on Atleti with a win at home to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, while Villarreal and Real Sociedad, in sixth and seventh, are still in contention but have ground to make up after defeats last weekend.

Villarreal host Celta Vigo on Saturday and Real Sociedad are at home to struggling Alaves on Sunday.

Fixtures (times GMT)

Friday

Atletico Madrid v Cadiz (2000)

Saturday

Levante v Espanyol (1300), Granada v Elche (1515), Villarreal v Celta Vigo (1730), Getafe v Valencia (2000)

Sunday

Rayo Vallecano v Sevilla (1300), Real Betis v Athletic Bilbao (1515), Real Sociedad v Alaves (1730), Barcelona v Osasuna (2000)

Monday

Mallorca v Real Madrid (2000)

AFP

Barca Not At The Level To Compete In Champions League – Xavi

A photo combination of Xavi.

 

Xavi Hernandez said the Europa League is not where Barcelona belongs, but another chastening defeat by Bayern Munich on Wednesday showed again how far they are from the Champions League elite.

After six games played in Group E, Barca had scored two goals in a pair of 1-0 victories over Dynamo Kiev. Against Bayern and Benfica, the two accomplished sides in the group, they failed to score a single goal and conceded nine, from a stalemate at home to Benfica, and three 3-0 defeats.

When Xavi took over on the back of consecutive wins over Dynamo, there appeared to be a way back, a possible path to qualification. But that always assumed Xavi’s arrival would initiate a bounce in form that, in truth, is yet to materialise.

Barca suffered Xavi’s first defeat in La Liga on Saturday at home to Real Betis, a fellow contender for the top four, and now their status as a Champions League club has also gone up in smoke.

“I wanted us to compete in this Champions League and try to win it but the reality is we are not at that level. It’s hard, but that’s how it is,” Xavi said on Wednesday night.

The immediate impact will be primarily financial, with Barcelona missing out on around 15 million euros they would have earned for reaching the Champions League last 16 and that the club had forecasted into their accounts.

To make the same money in the Europa League, they would have to win the tournament.

For any club, in the aftermath of the pandemic, unexpected losses like these are damaging but for Barcelona, still nursing more than a billion euros of debt and trying to launch a 1.5-billion-euro renovation of stadium and training facilities, it is a hammer blow.

Impact On Signings

There will be the impact on potential signings, those Barca are now even less able to afford than before and those who might see them now, even more so than before, as a club in freefall.

Any targets in the January transfer window might justifiably wonder if exile from the Champions League is a blip, or a sign of things to come. Will Ferran Torres leave Manchester City for this?

Even the struggling Lionel Messi at Paris Saint-Germain might look back at his former club with some sense of relief to be away from it all. It cannot be entirely coincidental the last time Barcelona played in the Europa League was 2003-04, the season before Messi made his Barca debut.

There will almost certainly be a hit to the morale and belief of the players, for whom Barcelona’s status and grandure has been one of the last remaining sources of reassurance.

Trailing Real Madrid by 16 points already in La Liga may have seen any hope of winning the title extinguished but most still believed Barcelona were too big not to beat the likes of Real Sociedad and Real Betis to the top four.

That confidence feels less secure with the team about to be thrown into the draw for the Europa League’s round of 32 on Monday.

There is an irony as well in Barcelona’s steadfast commitment to the European Super League, a project that would supercede the Champions League, the tournament that Barcelona are no longer good enough to play in.

For now, Xavi remains relatively untarnished by all this, even though he has missed out on what would have been a welcome boost to his authority and kudos if he had overseen Barcelona getting through.

He also avoids the very real possibility of another humiliation in the knock-out stages that might have been even more damaging.

But in a practical sense, Xavi’s job in the second half of this season has just got harder.

He has to weigh up how many of his chips to throw at winning the Europa League without harming his team’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League through La Liga.

Most will expect Barcelona to progress in the Europa league even while rotating but there are countless examples of elite European clubs being burned by highly-motivated, often underrated Europa League opponents.

Besides, in the later rounds, few would express much confidence this Barca would beat the likes of Porto, Leipzig or Borussia Dortmund, not to mention Betis, Sevilla or Real Sociedad, even with their strongest line-up.

To win the trophy and secure Champions League qualification in one fell swoop is now the dream scenario but, just as it will be for Barcelona’s recovery, the road will be long, hard and without guarantees.

AFP

Barca, Atletico In Danger Of Early Champions League Exit

File photo: Barcelona’s Spanish midfielder Nico Gonzalez (R) reacts at the end of the UEFA Champions League Group E football match between FC Barcelona and SL Benfica, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on November 23, 2021. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Xavi Hernandez faces his first critical test as Barcelona coach with the club at risk of failing to make the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in two decades.

A goalless draw at home to Benfica last month left Barca with their destiny in their own hands, but with a much trickier final game away to Group E winners Bayern Munich.

Spanish champions Atletico Madrid have their work cut to secure one of the five unclaimed last-16 tickets after three defeats on the spin, while all four teams remain in the hunt in an unpredictable Group G.


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AFP Sport looks at what’s at stake going into the final round of Champions League group games:

Ballon d’Or backlash from Bayern? Barca find themselves on the ropes ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Germany, but it could have been far worse were it not for Benfica forward Haris Seferovic’s glaring miss in stoppage time at Camp Nou.

Bayern are one of three teams with a perfect record in this season’s competition, and Robert Lewandowski’s perceived Ballon d’Or snub may give the star striker extra incentive to prove a point.

Xavi suffered his first defeat as Barca coach on Saturday against Real Betis. He rested key players with a view to the game in Munich, where victory would guarantee Barca go through as runners-up in Group E, extending their 20-year run of reaching the knockout phase.

A youthful Xavi was establishing himself as a mainstay of the midfield when Barca exited in the first group stage of the 2000-01 competition.

Failure to secure maximum points would open the door for Benfica to pip them to second place, with the Portuguese needing to beat Dynamo Kiev in Lisbon.

Three-horse race and four-way showdownPorto, AC Milan and Atletico will battle it out for the second qualification spot behind Liverpool in Group B.

Two-time former European champions Porto hold a one-point edge over both rivals ahead of the visit of Atletico. Milan host a Liverpool side that Jurgen Klopp could rotate heavily ahead of a busy festive schedule.

Last season’s Europa League winners Villarreal, beaten at home by two late Manchester United goals on matchday five, go to Atalanta knowing they will advance at the expense of the Italians if they avoid defeat in Bergamo.

Austrian champions Salzburg appeared to be coasting through after accruing seven points in three games, but back-to-back away losses mean they could still miss out.

Lille top Group G with eight points and will progress if they get a point at Wolfsburg. The Germans are last in the section but victory would send them through instead.

Salzburg can seal a knockout berth with a draw at home to Sevilla, who in turn would qualify if they win.

Already in the last-16 potEleven clubs are assured of their place in the last-16 draw on December 13, five of which have already clinched top spot.

Erik ten Hag’s impressive Ajax will attempt to complete a perfect group stage for the first time in club history at home to Sporting, certain of second above Borussia Dortmund irrespective of Tuesday’s results.

Manchester City cannot be caught by Paris Saint-Germain in Group A, while Real Madrid have a two-point lead over Inter Milan in Group D ahead of their Bernabeu showdown.

Holders Chelsea, who go to Zenit Saint Petersburg for their final Group H game, will nail down top spot if they match Juventus’ result at home to Swedish outfit Malmo.

Ralf Rangnick made a winning start to his spell as United’s interim manager and is safe in the knowledge his team will move on as winners of Group F come what may against Switzerland’s Young Boys.

Europa League consolationAll third-placed clubs will drop into the Europa League, but a revised format now sees them face the group runner-ups from the second-tier tournament in a play-off round before the last 16.

Sheriff Tiraspol, losers of three straight games after shocking Real in September, will continue their European adventure in the Europa League, as will Dortmund and Zenit.

RB Leipzig look favourites to finish third behind City and PSG despite parting ways with coach Jesse Marsch. The Germans are level on points with Club Brugge but have the head-to-head advantage prior to their home game with Pep Guardiola’s side.

AFP

Barca Held By Benfica In Xavi’s Champions League Debut


Barcelona’s Spanish midfielder Nico Gonzalez (R) reacts at the end of the UEFA Champions League Group E football match between FC Barcelona and SL Benfica, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on November 23, 2021. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Barcelona’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League last 16 go down to the final Group E matchday after an entertaining 0-0 draw against Benfica on Tuesday.

With Xavi Hernandez taking charge of his second game since replacing Ronald Koeman in the Barca dugout, the Catalan side produced a performance a world apart from the sorry outfit Benfica saw off 3-0 in Lisbon in September.

A win would have earned Barca qualification alongside Bayern Munich, whom they must now beat on December 8, if Benfica down Dynamo Kiev, to progress.

Ronald Araujo, the Barcelona defender who had a late effort disallowed, told uefa.com: “We played exactly the game the boss asked us to, pressing high up the pitch in particular. All we lacked was the crucial goal.”

In torrential rain, the Xavi-invigorated hosts were dripping with newfound intensity and pace.

READ ALSO: Ronaldo Fires Manchester United Into Champions League Last 16

Only the woodwork denied teenager Yusuf Demir late in the first half.

The winger, on loan from Rapid Vienna, curled a shot from inside the penalty area to beat Odysseas Vlachodimos, but not the crossbar.

Quick reflexes from the Greek keeper’s opposite number Marc-Andre ter Stegen had denied Roman Yaremchuk’s close-range header 10 minutes earlier.

In front of almost 50,000 fans braving a wintery evening in Catalonia, Barca emerged for the second period in dominant mood, but Benfica held firm.

The Portuguese visitors’ coach Jorge Jesus freshened up his team on the hour, Darwin Nunez coming on for Yaremchuk and Adel Taarabt for Joao Mario.

Xavi then introduced Ousmane Dembele for Demir, the French World Cup winner injecting some late pace.

On 68 minutes Frenkie de Jong’s header had ‘opening goal’ written all over it, only for Vlachodimos to tip the ball over the bar.

With the clock ticking down, Araujo thought he had delivered the decisive moment but his effort seven minutes from time was ruled offside.

Four minutes of injury time proved no place for the faint-hearted, as both sides went all out for the winner.

And Benfica it was who almost got it, Jesus crumpling to his knees after watching Haris Seferovic fluff a great chance with only Ter Stegen to beat.

As it was, the stalemate left Barca in second on seven points, two ahead of Benfica, and their Champions League fortunes resting on a result in Munich in two weeks’ time.

AFP

Xavi Unveiled As Barcelona Coach 

Newly-appointed FC Barcelona’s Spanish coach Xavi Hernandez waves to supporters during his presentation ceremony at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on November 8, 2021. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Xavi Hernandez was unveiled as Barcelona’s new coach on Monday as thousands of fans welcomed the debt-ridden club’s legendary former midfielder back to Camp Nou.

Xavi walked out to chants of “Xavi, Xavi” before signing his contract on the pitch, alongside his family and Barca president Joan Laporta.

“I don’t want to get too emotional so I will just tell you one thing — we are the best club in the world,” Xavi told the crowd of around 10,000 fans.

“And we will work to the highest standards to have success. We cannot accept defeats or draws, we have to win every game.”

Laporta said: “Today will be a historic day for Barca.”

READ ALSO: Three Talking Points From The Premier League Last Weekend

Newly-appointed FC Barcelona’s Spanish coach Xavi Hernandez (R), flanked by FC Barcelona’s Spanish president Joan Laporta, poses with his jersey during the presentation ceremony at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on November 8, 2021. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Xavi is the first Barca coach to be presented on the pitch in front of fans at the 99,000-capacity stadium, with the routine usually only reserved for the club’s biggest signings.

The return of the 41-year-old as coach, six years after he left Barcelona to play in Qatar, has generated huge excitement and raised hopes the club can begin a return to Europe’s elite.

Barca sit ninth in La Liga, with the club grappling with debts of more than a billion euros. They have not been European champions since 2015.

Xavi’s appointment was confirmed in the early hours of Saturday and he flew out of Doha a few hours later, before watching Barcelona at a distance as they threw away a three-goal lead away at Celta Vigo to draw 3-3.

He then attended in person to watch the club’s youngsters as Barca B beat Sevilla B at the Johan Cruyff Stadium on Saturday evening.

Xavi’s first training session in charge will be on Tuesday, although the squad is depleted by injuries and absentees away on international duty.

Barcelona’s first game with Xavi in the dug-out will be at home to local rivals Espanyol on November 20.

After playing 767 games for Barcelona, Xavi left to play for Al Sadd in Qatar in 2015 before taking over as the team’s coach four years later.

He is widely considered one of the Barca’s greatest ever players, having won four La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues, as well as the World Cup and two European Championships with Spain.

 

AFP

Barcelona Confirm Return Of Club Icon Xavi As Coach

File photo: Xavier Hernández Creus, also known as Xavi, speaks to the media on December 2, 2019 after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Annual Awards ceremony in Hong Kong.  Philip FONG / AFP

 

 

Barcelona confirmed the return of Xavi Hernandez as coach on Saturday, adding that the legendary midfielder was expected back in the city this weekend to take up his new role.

The Spaniard left Camp Nou to play for Al Sadd in 2015, after making 767 appearances for the Catalan club, which included winning eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues.

“It’s time to come home. Welcome, Xavi,” Barca tweeted. “It wasn’t goodbye, it was see you later,” it wrote, along with a video montage of the player’s departure in 2015.

Barcelona said in a statement it had reached an agreement with Xavi to become first team coach for the rest of the current season and two more seasons.

“It is expected that Xavi Hernandez will arrive in Barcelona this weekend and that on Monday 8 November his presentation as new FC Barcelona first team coach will take place in an event open to the public at Camp Nou,” it said.

Barcelona’s attempt to appoint Xavi as coach had been held up on Friday over his Al Sadd release clause, with Xavi and Barca considering splitting the payment to complete the deal.

Al Sadd said Barca had agreed to pay the clause in Xavi’s contract, which is reportedly set at around 5 million euros ($5.8 million), but Barcelona did not give any details of the deal in their statement.

AFP

Xavi’s Qatari Club Agrees Deal With Barcelona

In this file photo taken on December 2, 2019 Al Sadd SC Manager Xavier Hernández Creus, also known as Xavi, speaks to the media after receiving the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Men’s Player of the Year 2019 award in place of absentee Akram Afif, during a press conference after the AFC Annual Awards ceremony in Hong Kong. Philip FONG / AFP

 

Barcelona are set to announce Xavi Hernandez’s dramatic return to the club as coach, after Al Sadd confirmed on Friday a deal has been agreed between the clubs.

The Qatari club said in a statement Barca had paid the release clause for Xavi, who has been coaching in Qatar since 2019 and now rejoins the club where he enjoyed huge success as a player.

Al Sadd chief executive Turki Al-Ali said in a statement: “The Al Sadd administration has agreed on Xavi’s move to Barcelona after the payment of the release clause stipulated in the contract.

“We’ve agreed on cooperation with Barcelona in the future. Xavi is an important part of Al-Sadd’s history and we wish him success.”

Barcelona sent vice-president Rafa Yuste and director of football Mateu Alemany to Doha for talks on Wednesday.

But Turki Al-Ali insisted earlier on Wednesday that Al Sadd were “committed to keeping Xavi” and they appear to have held their ground in the negotiations, with Barca needing to pay Xavi’s release clause, reportedly set at five million euros ($5.8 million).

“Xavi informed us a few days ago of his desire to go to Barcelona at this particular time, because of the critical stage his hometown club is going through, and we understand this and decided not to stand in his way,” Turki Al-Ali added in his statement on Friday.

Barcelona had to let Lionel Messi leave the club before the season began and have admitted they are saddled with huge debts.

AFP

Xavi Favourite To Take Over Barcelona Coaching Job

In this file photo taken on December 2, 2019 Al Sadd SC Manager Xavier Hernández Creus, also known as Xavi, speaks to the media after receiving the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Men’s Player of the Year 2019 award in place of absentee Akram Afif, during a press conference after the AFC Annual Awards ceremony in Hong Kong. Philip FONG / AFP

 

Ronald Koeman has been sacked as Barcelona coach after a torrid 14 months, with legendary midfielder Xavi Hernandez the strong favourite to replace him.

The 58-year-old Dutchman was dismissed after a 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday left the Spanish giants sitting ninth in La Liga.

Barca have won only two of their last seven league games under Koeman, a run that included losing to Real Madrid in Sunday’s Clasico at Camp Nou.

A poor start to the season has raised the possibility of the team failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League, which would have enormous consequences for the club’s already dire financial situation.

Xavi, who is currently in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd, is considered Koeman’s most likely successor and would be a hugely popular choice with the Barca fans given his glittering playing career there.

There is also the belief that the 41-year-old would instill an attractive style similar to the one played by Barcelona under Pep Guardiola.

River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo and Ajax’s Erik ten Hag have also been linked with the post but might be reluctant to leave their jobs mid-season.

READ ALSO: Barcelona Sack Ronald Koeman As Coach

Barcelona B coach Sergi Barjuan could take charge of the first team on an interim basis, with games against Alaves, Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, and Celta Vigo to come before the next international break.

A club statement released after midnight Wednesday in Spain confirmed the axing of Koeman, who also previously managed Everton and the Netherlands and had been under fierce pressure.

“The president of the club, Joan Laporta, informed him of the decision after the defeat against Rayo Vallecano,” the statement said.

“Ronald Koeman will say goodbye to the squad on Thursday at the Ciutat Esportiva (training ground).”

Heavy Debt

In this file photo taken on October 22, 2021, Sadd’s coach Xavi speaks to his players during the Amir Cup final football match between Al-Sadd and Al-Rayyan at the Al-Thumama Stadium in the capital Doha. KARIM JAAFAR / AFP

 

Koeman spent six years at Barcelona as a player and is considered a club legend after scoring the winning goal in the 1992 European Cup final against Sampdoria.

He was appointed coach by Barca’s previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu in August 2020 and enjoyed some success in his first season, winning the Copa del Rey and bringing a disillusioned Lionel Messi back onside.

But a disappointing finish in La Liga and a convincing defeat by Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last 16 cast doubt over Koeman’s ability to navigate the biggest games, a criticism that was aimed at him again last weekend following the loss to Real Madrid.

Laporta was re-elected as president in March and while he allowed Koeman to continue as coach, there was never much trust between the pair.

Laporta told Koeman in the summer he wanted two weeks to look for a replacement while Koeman reacted badly last month to Laporta suggesting coaches do not have all the power.

“He spoke too much,” Koeman said.

No replacement was found or could be persuaded to take over, perhaps in part because of Barcelona’s perilous financial problems.

The club is 1.35 billion euros in debt and had to watch Messi join PSG in August after failing to renew the Argentine’s contract.

Other key players like Antoine Griezmann also departed without being adequately replaced as Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay both arrived on free transfers and Luuk de Jong came from Sevilla on loan.

“In recent years other clubs have strengthened every season and we haven’t,” said Koeman after his last game in charge against Rayo.

– Honest approach -Youngsters like Pedri, Gavi, Nico Gonzalez, Sergino Dest and Ronald Araujo have all benefited from Koeman’s faith, but more established players have suffered a drop in form.

Koeman’s honest approach was largely accepted and even appreciated last season, but his downbeat assessment of his squad this term was seen by many as counter-productive and not befitting of a Barcelona coach.

There was criticism of Koeman’s style of play, which became increasingly direct, while the board were reportedly irritated by his straying from the club’s traditions of playing 4-3-3.

But results were the key factor, as consecutive 3-0 defeats by Bayern Munich and Benfica in the Champions League were followed by losses against Atletico and Real Madrid in the league.

Laporta said before the international break that Koeman “deserved the benefit of the doubt”, moving to end speculation that he would lose his job after the defeat by Atletico earlier this month.

But faced with an early exit in the Champions League and the possibility of failing to make the top four in La Liga, Laporta decided to act.

AFP

Five Issues Barcelona’s Incoming Coach Must Address 

In this file photo taken on August 20, 2017 Armed Catalan policemen, known as Mosso d’Esquadra pass by the FC Barcelona logo with a black ribbon and a message reading “We are all Barcelona” before the Spanish league footbal match FC Barcelona vs Real Betis at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona.  LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Barcelona were moving closer to appointing Xavi Hernandez on Thursday after the club sacked Ronald Koeman as coach. 

A 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday left Barca ninth in La Liga, six points off the top four after winning only two of their last seven league games.

Koeman’s dismissal was confirmed almost three hours after full-time, with club president Joan Laporta reportedly flying to Qatar on Thursday morning to finalise an agreement with Xavi.

Xavi, Barcelona’s legendary former midfielder who won eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues with them as a player, left in 2015 for Al Sadd, where he has been coach since 2019.

READ ALSO: Barcelona Sack Ronald Koeman As Coach

Here, AFP Sport takes a look at five issues to address at the Camp Nou:

Cut the gap on the top four

Barcelona’s perilous financial situation means they simply cannot afford not to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

The club are 1.35 billion euros ($1.57bn) in debt and any attempt to rebuild both financially and on the pitch will depend on playing in Europe’s elite competition next season.

The situation is salvageable, with the gap only six points between Barca in ninth and Real Sociedad in fourth, but there can be no room for complacency given the form of a number of teams challenging at the top so far this season.

Sneak into Champions League last 16 

A 1-0 victory at home to Dynamo Kiev last week at least revived Barcelona’s hopes of reaching the last 16 after they began the group stage with consecutive 3-0 losses to Bayern Munich and Benfica.

But there is work still to do, with trips to Kiev and Bayern still to come, either side of a home game against Benfica.

Escaping the group after such a poor start under Koeman would give the new coach an early injection of credibility while the club would avoid missing out on 9.6 million euros in UEFA prize money for making the knock-out stage.

Improve the playing style 

One of the biggest criticisms of Koeman centred around his playing style, with too many performances lacking either creativity or a clear sense of a plan.

Barcelona may not have the talent anymore of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi but there is still room for improvement on recent performances.

Combining the club’s traditions of possession football with a modern, counter-pressing game would bring the fans back onside and give the players belief that a long-term vision was at least in place.

Blood the youngsters 

One of Koeman’s biggest achievements was promoting a talented group of youngsters and the challenge now will be to make of the most of their potential.

Ansu Fati and Pedri are the great hopes for the future but the likes of Ronald Araujo, Sergino Dest, Gavi, Nico Gonzalez and Alex Balde have also shown a lot of promise and need nurturing.

If they can thrive alongside more experienced players like Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, whose futures must also be managed, Barca can have an exciting team for the future.

Move on from Messi 

Messi’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain in August has left a gigantic hole at Barcelona, his absence exposing the cracks the Argentinian covered for so long.

They have struggled for goals this season, with Memphis Depay inconsistent and Luuk de Jong out of his depth, but there has also been a lack of belief.

Koeman constantly asked for realistic expectations but his downbeat assessment bordered on defeatist at times.

Barca may not be able to afford a star signing like Kylian Mbappe to fill the void but for now, the players just appear in need of some confidence.

AFP