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Champions League: Barcelona on brink ahead of Bayern Munich trip


Barcelona face missing out on the Champions League knockout stage for the first time since their latest star, 17-year-old midfielder Gavi, was born
Barcelona face missing out on the Champions League knockout stage for the first time since their latest star, 17-year-old midfielder Gavi, was born

The last time that Barcelona were absent from the Champions League knockout stages, Lionel Messi was yet to make his debut and Gavi, the club’s newest star, hadn’t even been born.

But 18 years later that scenario could come to pass again on Wednesday evening, depending on the outcome of the club’s make-or-break final Group E fixture away to Bayern Munich.

Barca head to Germany knowing that they may need to beat a Bayern team who boast a 100 per cent record if they are to progress to the last 16 as runners-up.

If they fail to overcome that sizeable obstacle, they will be reliant on the similarly unlikely eventuality of Benfica failing to win at home to bottom team Dynamo Kiev.

The predicament is symptomatic of the decline of Barcelona, a club that has gone from darlings of football to financially stricken laughing stock in the space of a few years.

“I’m working to win the game tomorrow and get to the second round,” said Barcelona manager Xavi. “This is our reality, then in other competitions we’ll see where we are come the end of the season. We are Barcelona and we have to try to win everything.

“We can make history. Why not think about Barcelona’s first-ever victory in Munich? Bayern is one of the best teams in the world. I hope our recent defeats to them don’t affect us psychologically. The players have to forget everything, that’s my mission.

“We’ll go out to dominate the game through having the ball, through being protagonists. We’ll try everything even though it’s complicated.”

Xavi was enticed back from a lucrative job in Qatar last month, tasked with fixing the club he joined at age of 11 and would play 700 games, winning every major honour.

He set about re-establishing some ground rules derived from Barca’s La Masia academy, where humility and hard work are prioritised and flashiness is frowned upon.

The results have been better, if not spectacular: two not wholly convincing wins and a draw followed by a first defeat of his tenure, 1-0 at home to Real Betis on Saturday.

While Barcelona have enjoyed plenty of possession, they have found scoring goals more difficult, as in the 0-0 draw with Benfica which has left them on the brink of elimination.

Whichever way you cut it, Xavi has not yet conjured the kind of performance that will likely be needed to overcome a Bayern team who have won 18 out of 22 games this season.

The German giants have not given any indication that they intend to take it easy in the final group game, with first place and a favourable draw already sewn up.

“We’re happy that we’re going into this game having already secured top spot. Nevertheless, it’s still an important game,” said head coach Julian Nagelsmann.

“The Champions League is always something special, and we want to be fair to the rest of the teams in the group.

Former player Xavi faces the biggest test of his brief career as Barcelona head coach
Former player Xavi faces the biggest test of his brief career as Barcelona head coach

“Barca still have world-class players. They are under pressure in the table and have to win, and they will give everything to do that. 

“It’s not about knocking them out but about the three points for us. I still see them as candidates for the title.”

If there is a glimmer of hope for Barcelona it is that Bayern will not be roared on by a vociferous home support as Bavaria has closed the doors to stem an increase in Covid-19 cases.

There are other intriguing plotlines to follow on the final evening of the Champions League group stage, such as whether Salzburg can reach the knockout stage for the first time.

But none are likely to match the significance of Barcelona either rubber-stamping their descent into mediocrity – or pulling off a memorable escape act to kick-start Xavi’s second coming.



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