The game vs Bayern yesterday reminded us once again that the current FC Barcelona team is nowhere the elite clubs level. Moreover, it reminded us that although Xavi’s arrival is positive, he’s no magician. The healing process will be a long one, and we need patience. But, unlike other humiliations – and especially the 8-2 against Bayern – it doesn’t feel like ‘rock bottom to me’. I believe we’ve already hit our rocket bottom, and we’re slowly climbing. And playing Europa League this season won’t be the end of the world for FC Barcelona.
Xavi decided to play with a 433 formation, with Araujo as a Center Back, and with Dest as a Right Winger. Moreover, Dembele played as a Left Winger. The plan, in my opinion, was to neutralize the left side of Bayern with Sane and Davies. And at first, the plan worked well. Barça started the game well, and the press worked. Bayern looked off for the first 20 minutes. But then the Germans found the tactical solution and moved Sane to a more central position. Moreover, Alba leaving the field with injury had a devastating effect on the team.
Xavi acted fast, but I’m not sure about his solution. He brought Mingueza in to play as a Left Back. The coach probably wanted to keep the stracture as is, and for that he needed to keep Dest in the right wing. But the problem is that Mingueza is not a left back. He played there few times with Barcelona B, but he’s not good at all there. The other option was Balde, who started the season well and even did well in the first match vs Bayern. But his form is bad after suffering a back injury few weeks ago. Even at Barça B he’s not doing well. So, if our only subs for Alba are Balde and Mingueza, maybe the Europa League is the right place for FC Barcelona right now?
A Quick History Lesson
FC Barcelona never played in the UEFA Europa League, but it’s mainly because the competition was founded in the 2009-10 season. But before the rebranding of the competition, Barcelona did play in the other competitions of UEFA. Barcelona even won the ‘Cup Winners Cup’ in 1996-7 season, with Bobby Robson and Ronaldo.
The last time that FC Barcelona didn’t advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League was in 2000-1 season. Back then, Xavi was a 20 years old player, and Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola were veterans at the starting lineup. Moreover, it was the season after one of the club’s best players, Figo, betrayed all the fans and moved to Madrid. More on that here. In that season the team lost in the semi finals of the UEFA Cup, and finished 4th in the league. But it took a VERY special moment to earn that 4th place, and we all know that moment.
2002-3 was a nightmare of a season as well for FC Barcelona. Van Gaal came back and threw Rivaldo from the team. By January, Barcelona were at the 15th spot, 3 points above the relegation zone. Then Van Gaal resigned, President Gaspart resigned, and the team somehow finished the season at the 7th place, earning a place in the Inter-Toto Cup.
In the following summer, a young lawyer named Joan Laporta took over as the president, and brought a certain Ronaldinho. But their first season started really bad, at some point we were 18 points behind Real Madrid. But a marvelous second half of the season made Barcelona reach the Champions League again. And in 3 years, this club from the “Inter-Toto”, went on to win the Champions League in 2006.
Europa League as a Stepping Stone?
Reaching the Europa League is bad news for Barcelona, no questions about it. It’s very bad economically, and for us fans it’s also very tough. Expect Madrid fans to make fun of us, the memes to be out there, and people trying to ridicule our club. But we earned this hate from other clubs by absolutely dominating European football for a decade and a half. We were the team to beat, so now other clubs enjoying this moment. Let them enjoy. We wouldn’t act any differently if we were in their position.
The important thing is to build something powerful here. We have so much talent in our squad. Moreover, the people that are now running the club and the team know what they’re doing. So we should take this blow and turn in into a long term success.
Winning Europa League won’t be a walk in the park. With teams like Sevilla, Dortmund and Napoli, we will have to give our best in order to win the trophy. And make no mistakes – it is a trophy. And what’s better for the youngsters this season? Reaching a final and competing for a European title, or another humilitation vs Manchester City or Liverpool? Because right now we can’t compete with them.
Liverpool reached the Europa League finals 2 years before reaching the UCL finals and winning it. Chelsea won the Europa League 2 years before winning the Champions League. So, playing with our cards right, FC Barcelona can and should use the Europa League as a stepping stone for bigger achievements.