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Barca target early Champions League progress

Published : Tuesday, 7 November, 2023 at 12:00 AM  Count : 158

BARCELONA, NOV 6: After two years of misery in the Champions League group stage, Barcelona have the chance to book their place in the knock-out rounds against Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday in Hamburg.

The Spanish champions can guarantee progress with a fourth consecutive victory in Group H, something they have not managed since 2021, when they were knocked out by Kylian Mbappe's Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16.

Undoubtedly Barcelona have improved since Xavi arrived in November that year, winning La Liga last season, but they have still struggled in Europe and lacked the sparkle many, including the coach, wishes to see in their game.
Consecutive 5-0 wins over Real Betis in La Liga and Royal Antwerp in the Champions League in September were the high point of the club's season so far, but they have not produced that football on a consistent basis.

Despite strolling around Shakhtar in the first half of their 2-1 win at home in October, the Catalans did not put the game to bed and suffered in the final stages as the Ukrainians sought a leveller.

It was the same story in the Clasico in La Liga three days after that, except this time Jude Bellingham hit a stunning double to win Real Madrid the game after Ilkay Gundogan's opener.

By contrast, Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Saturday despite being on the back foot throughout, creating next to nothing before Ronald Araujo's stoppage time winner.

"Football sometimes is inexplicable," said Xavi, admitting the team had to be "self-critical".

Xavi's football has been a far cry from the team's peak under Pep Guardiola, when he was a key player, or even from the dynamic, swashbuckling performances that saw them win the Champions League in 2015 with Luis Enrique at the helm.

The coach has previously said that in the modern era it is no longer possible to be as dominant as in his playing days, but that the team would not stop trying to emulate their predecessors.

What cannot be allowed, said Xavi, is a performance as flat as against Real Sociedad in San Sebastian.

"Today is an example of what we must not do, above all in terms of intensity -- that's something unacceptable," the coach told reporters.

"It cannot be. (But) to win, and win not playing well, is something a champion team does."

In the second half against Real Sociedad, midfielder Pedri made his comeback from injury, having last played in August.    �AFP

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