Barcelona beat Porto 2-1 on Tuesday to make it through to the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time under Xavi.
It was the club’s top priority ahead of the new campaign and has been achieved with a game to spare, albeit from a fairly obliging group.
Barcelona had to do it the hard way though, coming from behind yet again to snatch all three points thanks to goals from Joao Cancelo and Joao Felix.
Xavi hailed it as a “big step forwards” for his team after the game and seemed pretty satisfied despite watching his players suffer at times.
“It’s important for confidence and morale, above all for the players. It means a lot because we are seeing how tough the groups are; certain teams are struggling to progress,” he said.
“It also comes after a very good performance against a great side. Porto could go far in this competition, so it’s a day to be very satisfied after ticking off the first objective of the season.”
Barcelona now just need a point against Antwerp to confirm top spot in the group and, fingers crossed, a move favorable draw in the last 16.
Joao Cancelo sparks Barca into life
Xavi had urged his team to change their mentality ahead of game but had to watch his team concede the first goal yet again at Montjuic.
Yet Barca didn’t panic and had Joao Cancelo to thank for dragging them back into the game with an almost instant equaliser.
It was a brilliant effort from the Portugal international too, and his passionate celebrations afterwards spoke volumes about how he was feeling.
Xavi had made the big call to play Cancelo out on the left against Porto and it paid off handsomely as he ran riot and picked up the MVP award.
| PERFECTION— Sofascore (@SofascoreINT) November 28, 2023
João Cancelo v Porto:
⚽️ 1 goal
4 shots/2 on target (0.15 xG)
️ 1 assist
5 key passes
4/4 accurate long balls
27/30 accurate passes (0.31 xA)
6/8 successful dribbles
⚔️ 14/20 duels won
0 times dribbled past
Cancelo spoke about playing on the left before the game and made it clear he’s happy to play on either flank.
“It feels fine on the right and left side. I always want to be part of the team to help my friends,” he said. “I love being here and I have loved this team since I was young because of all my icons that played here. I want to do my best and help get a win.”
You suspect it’s not the last time we’ll see him in that position for Barcelona this season.
Goal drought over Joao Felix
Joao Felix was also in the goals against Porto, scoring the winner to end a long goal drought for Barcelona.
The Portugal international had gone 12 games without a goal heading into the match but struck the hosts’ second goal against his boyhood club.
3 - @joaofelix70 has scored three goals this season in the #UCL (5 games) with @FCBarcelona, equaling his best tally in a single season in the competition (three also in 2019/20 and 2020/21 with Atlético de Madrid). Inspired. pic.twitter.com/L9liNWGxeu— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 28, 2023
His strike will surely be a weight off his shoulders, although he seemed pretty measured after the match.
“The goal was important for the team. In football, a player can very suddenly go from best to worst and the opposite can also happen,” he said.
“I go into every game trying to do my best. If the goal comes, all the better, if it doesn’t, the important thing is to help my team-mates.”
Barcelona have struggled for goals this season and will be hoping this can spark Felix into life, particularly as he faces another former employer next in the shape of Atletico Madrid.