FC Barcelona are in a precarious position.
With six points, they are second in UEFA Champions League Group E, but Benfica are very close to them with four points. Not only that, but they lost their previous meeting 3-0 against the Portuguese side. And they will now play them in a pivotal clash that could see Benfica leapfrog the Catalans in the standings.
Xavi’s reign started on a positive note with a 1-0 victory over Espanyol. The local derby win was a boost to be sure, even if the match was closely contested.
This is an even bigger moment because Barcelona could be on the way to elimination if they lose this game. Of course, it would not be definitive, but it would be a huge blow.
In the Catalan press, this game has been described as Xavi’s “first final.” Of course, it’s not a final, but it is a huge, pivotal test. It’s not simply about advancing in the Champions League, either. Sure, that’s important, but realistically, this is not a team that would realistically challenge to win the title. But, advancing in the Champions League carries hefty bonuses for the teams that are able to do so. Considering the team’s financial position, that is very important.
In addition, it would be a great psychological boost. That would allow the team to continue to improve and perhaps challenge for at least the Copa del Rey title. A top four finish is a necessity to remain in the Champions League, too, which is probably the acceptable minimum Barcelona would hope for. Once again, it’s very important to be in Europe’s top competition for financial reasons, apart from the prestige it brings.
Also, a young team like this would benefit from the experience of playing at least one knockout tie in Europe, even if they were to lose it.
So Xavi comes in with a squad that has been depleted through exits in the transfer market, who was not strengthened well during the Josep Maria Bartomeu years, and on top of all that, is being hit with an injury crisis, and in one of his earliest games, he has to win a “final.”
The coach won’t be judged too harshly if Barcelona are not up to par due to the extenuating circumstances we’ve discussed. But at the same time, this would be a great time to prove he’s ready to make a huge impact even in the short term. That at least, is the hope.