Not even the return of legendary former player Xavi Hernández, despite all the hopes and expectations, could save Barcelona from their UEFA Champions League fate. Comfortably beaten 3-0 at Bayern Munich in the final round of group games, the Spanish giants were out of the competition and forced to accept the consolation prize.
Finishing third in a Champions League group that also contained Benfica and Dynamo Kiev, that was far below the ambitions of Barcelona this season, regardless of all the turmoil which surrounds this huge club economically. Being bounced unceremoniously out of the elite competition will bring further financial disappointment, just when they least need it, amidst a pressing need to bring in much-needed funds.
However, aside from the inevitable dismay at falling by the wayside in one competition, Barcelona can at least continue their continental adventures this term, should they choose to take the UEFA Europa League seriously. Alongside the likes of Borussia Dortmund and fellow Spanish outfit Sevilla, the side now led by Xavi has already been installed as one of the favourites to lift the trophy.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 9, 2021
By contrast, predictions in LaLiga are looking pretty grim. Even with the arrival of Xavi, who was initially tipped to bring fresh impetus to a largely underperforming team, Barcelona has yet to find the rhythm which many believe they are still capable. Prior to the Champions League exit, Barcelona also suffered a frustrating 1-0 home defeat against Real Betis, leaving them seventh in the table and 16 points behind leaders Real Madrid.
Inevitably, the title odds for Barcelona continue to lengthen and at the moment, they are priced at 33/1 to win LaLiga. Just to put this into some context, this is equal to what many bookies are offering for Real Sociedad, while Sevilla and Atlético Madrid are both valued at much shorter odds. Meanwhile, even finishing in the top four may be a difficult proposition, as those odds also continue to lengthen.
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Insofar as the betting markets for Barcelona are concerned this season, while backing them to win LaLiga currently seems like a speculative punt at best, the cup competitions could bring some welcome relief to their millions of disgruntled fans. Although they might sniff at the perceived lesser value of the UEFA Europa League, you can bank on Xavi being motivated. He will undoubtedly set the competition as a primary objective.
Barcelona will be playing in the Europa League for the first time in 17 years 😳 pic.twitter.com/f7uWRBtKs5
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 8, 2021
There is one clearly added incentive to winning the UEFA Europa League, given that lifting the trophy also provides a pathway back into the UEFA Champions League next season. That could prove important, should Barcelona continue to stutter and stumble in LaLiga, unable to finish within the top four. Likewise, continental competition brings valuable experience for the younger players, which Xavi will regard as being highly valuable towards their progress.
Although restoring some pride in LaLiga will be crucial towards restoring confidence, there is absolutely no substitute for the tangible success of lifting a trophy. Assuming that hunting down the UEFA Europa League will be the primary objective; the secondary will most surely be going all the way in the Copa del Rey. After all, this is the one competition Barcelona has won more times than any other team in Spain, achieving their 31st Copa del Rey title last season.
Given they don’t enter the Spanish cup competition until the Round of 32, and the format is seeded to ensure matchups with lower league teams until the Round of 16, it’s fair to say that Barcelona would have an easy pathway to the Quarter-Finals. From then onwards, it’s luck of the draw which dictates their opponents, while the biggest LaLiga Santander rivals might view their other objectives with more importance.
Indeed, the road to redemption for Xavi and this Barcelona team could be the cup competitions. They genuinely offer the best chance of silverware this season, which is certainly what the iconic new head coach will be seeking, eager to lay down strong foundations of early success upon which he can build.