After four exits in two seasons, it appears that Barcelona might never find European success with Xavi
Barcelona’s exit at the hands of Manchester United last night was their fourth European exit under Xavi in only two seasons. This is a worrying trend that most fans of the club would not have envisaged when the former captain and legend was appointed in November of 2021.
Despite potential domestic success, Barcelona’s consistent failure in Europe suggests a fatal flaw in their head coach whose brilliance has, more often than not, dwindled on the big European nights.
These are Barcelona’s worst performances in Europe under Xavi from bad to worst, in order of how much input he had in them and how much was down to to rotten luck.
UEFA Europa League Round of 16 play-offs vs Manchester United: Bad
This was perhaps Xavi’s most difficult task as Barcelona manager and while he ultimately failed it, the circumstances leading up to the double header against Manchester United were less than ideal.
Injuries to Ousmane Dembele and Sergio Busquets ahead of the first leg, as well as the absences of Pedri, Gavi, and Dembele for the second leg meant that facing one of the most in-form sides in Europe at the moment was always going to be tricky, especially in two-legged knock out tie.
However, the task was not made any easier for Barcelona by Xavi’s poor in-game management in both legs as he was tactically outclassed twice in eight days by Erik Ten Hag and only avoided losing both legs thanks to a combination of Manchester United’s profligacy and a fluke goal by Raphinha less than 20 minutes before the end of the match.
UEFA Champions League Group stage 2022/23: Worse
Another instance where Xavi could rue his luck, this time across a number of games in the group stage.
After a great start to the group stage where Barcelona hammered Viktoria Plzen 5-1 in the opening game, they lost to Bayern Munich at the Allianz via small margins in the game and then had back to back fixtures against Inter to try and secure at least the second spot in the group.
However, injuries to virtually all of Barcelona’s first choice defenders, Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen, and Jules Kounde severely complicated the team’s task.
Barcelona lost in Milan after two inconsistent refereeing decisions and then drew against Inter at the Camp Nou after a performance by back up center back Gerard Pique that was so bad that he decided to retire immediately after despite the season being less than half way done.
Despite the situation, Xavi still came under criticism for the choices that he was not forced to make due to injuries and his management of the second leg against Inter where Barcelona were in control and suddenly fell flat under the slightest amount of pressure from their visitors.
By the time they lost the return leg against Bayern Munich, they were already out of the competition.
UEFA Champions League Group stage 2021/22: Even worse
Many people remember the 2021/22 group stage very differently from what actually happened.
Despite a difficult start to the group where Barcelona lost their first two matches against Bayern Munich and Benfica, back-to-back wins over Dynamo Kiev left them two points ahead of Benfica in the standings since the Portuguese had only managed a draw in Kiev and lost both matches against Bayern Munich, then Xavi was appointed.
With Barcelona needing only a victory at home against Benfica, they barely escaped with a draw and would have been eliminated that night at home if Harris Seferovic was a better finisher. Barcelona were listless at home and little was done to switch things around to try and change that.
After the game, Xavi gave a rousing speech about going to Munich to secure qualification against Bayern Munich, but Barcelona were routinely slapped 3-0 while Benfica leapfrogged them on the table thanks to a victory against Dynamo Kiev.
UEFA Europa League Quarterfinal vs Frankfurt: The absolute worst
Without doubt Barcelona’s worst exit in Europe in Xavi’s reign as manager, there could be no excuses made for the UEL quarterfinal loss to Frankfurt.
The only positive from this fixture was that Frankfurt went on to win the UEL, but the tie was still very winnable from Barcelona’s perspective.
The manner in which they lost it suggested a lack of respect to their opponents and lack of understanding of the team from Xavi who made some strange calls in both legs, despite the UEL being Barcelona’s best chance of silverware at that point.
Barcelona drew the first leg against Frankfurt in Germany thanks to a Ferran Torres equaliser and failed to capitalise on a red card to Frankfurt’s Tuta.
Then they suffered the ignominy of being knocked out in front of their own supporters after getting blitzed 3-0 by their opponents and fighting in vain to overturn the deficit.
A shocking loss to a team far worse than them, who went on to win the final after beating teams that Barcelona would or could have also beaten has to be the worst European exit that Barcelona have made under Xavi.
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