There were hopes that things would be different in Europe this year, but Barcelona will have to do it the hard way, and boss Xavi Hernandez will see his credit start to drain.
Xavi said the Catalans were on the right track after winning La Liga last year and their first three Champions League games, but a shocking 1-0 loss to Shakhtar Donetsk in Hamburg on Tuesday night stopped them in their tracks.
Barcelona was supposed to beat the Ukrainian winners and move on to the next round of the winners League, but they failed miserably and never really gave them a chance.
A newspaper in Spain called Marca said, “All the European ghosts of previous years came down on Barcelona.”
The teams that were knocked out last year were Bayern, Benfica, and Inter. And the opponent from yesterday was much weaker than all of these.”
Even though Barcelona is still in first place in Group H with nine points, tied with Porto, and is expected to make it through, Xavi is starting to feel the heat.
Since 2015, Barcelona hasn’t won the Champions League. They are desperate to get back to the top of Europe’s football leagues after risking a lot of the club’s future earnings to make a lot of deals in 2022.
A lot of Spanish news sites thought that Shakhtar’s loss to a team from war-torn Ukraine, which had to play their game at a neutral stadium, was embarrassing.
A headline in the newspaper El Pais said, “Barça, beaten by Shakhtar, are the ‘jester’ of Europe.”
This comes right after two other losses.
Losing the Clasico in extra time to rivals Real Madrid on October 28 was bad for confidence. Even though Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Saturday, they were lucky to win because they played badly.
They played the same way against Shakhtar, and Xavi said it might be a “mental” problem instead of a physical one or a problem with the team’s game.
The radio host Manolo Lama on Cadena Cope said, “Xavi’s big problem is that he doesn’t have a clear diagnosis of what is happening to the team.”
The coach also doesn’t seem to know which method to use or what his best starting lineup is.
He moved to a formation with three centre backs against Real Madrid and stuck with it against Real Sociedad, but it was easily broken down.
He went back to Barcelona’s classic 4-3-3 formation with two wide forwards in the loss to Shakhtar, but Shakhtar countered by telling their wingers to work hard to track back.
Head coach Robert Lewandowski is more blunt than he has been in ten years. He hasn’t scored in his last six games for the club, and the 35-year-old’s refusal or failure to press is holding Barcelona back.
– Road Roque –
Reports from Spain say the club is trying to find a way to get striker Vitor Roque in January.
The Catalans already have the money to sign the 18-year-old from Athletico Paranaense in Brazil, but they can’t do so until the winter transfer window opens.
It could help the team get out of their slump, which is a big change from mid-September, when they beat Real Betis and Royal Antwerp 5-0 in a row.
Xavi said those were some of the best games he had seen in his two years as manager, but on Tuesday, they were playing very poorly.
Even though Barcelona is still expected to move on, that performance made it clear that going further will be very difficult.
The Catalans have gotten better under Xavi, but maybe not quite enough to please president Joan Laporta or a picky fan group.
A year ago, when Barcelona was in danger of being knocked out of the Champions League, Xavi said, “When I don’t feel I can provide the solutions, I will step aside and go home.” The team needs help right now.