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How far can Barcelona realistically go in the Champions League this season?

The Blaugrana are experiencing an alarming relapse 

Royal Antwerp FC v FC Barcelona: Group H - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Pedro Salado/Getty Images

Xavi and Futbol Club Barcelona are in trouble.

They drew perhaps the easiest group in the Champions League, barely managed to come out on top, and are struggling to prove to themselves, and a weary fanbase, that they are ready to take the next step forward in Europe.

It wasn’t long ago that Barca put in a dominant performance against this same Antwerp team. It was a 5-0 thrashing on Montjuic. In the same week, they achieved a delightfully surprising 5-0 result against Real Betis in La Liga.

All seemed to be well at the club.

Xavi had his men believing in themselves, and playing well and brave. The new signings were integrating themselves effectively into the system, and there was a sense of palpable unity.

Royal Antwerp FC v FC Barcelona: Group H - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Joris Verwijst/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Perhaps it was the string of injuries that followed that knocked the team off course. But in many ways, the lack of depth on the team was a problem of their own making.

A critical revelation has been that, once again, Barcelona does not know how to handle adversity.

When their plan A is going well, confidence is high, and they can execute on a high level, and beat anyone.

But football isn’t just about tactics and talent, it’s about the intangible qualities of being a top athlete.

How much fight do you have inside of you?

How badly do you want to win?

How do you deal with pressure?

Royal Antwerp FC v FC Barcelona: Group H - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Marcel ter Bals/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

The Antwerp fans showed up ready to enjoy the game, wanting to see their team create a memory for the history books. With beer in hand, they were dancing and making noise, which was further elevated after the early opening goal was scored.

Ironically, in this intense environment, Sergi Roberto was the man leading the team.

Symbolically, this was a perfect encapsulation of why Barcelona can’t leave the past behind, and a warning that they will continue to be punished and embarrassed if they can’t stare reality in the face.

When the going gets tough, you need strong leaders who will lead the charge. When your captain looks scared, there’s a good chance it turns into a contagion.

And that’s what succeeding in the Champions League is all about. Dealing with the intensity of playing in front of screaming fans on a European night. Relishing in doing whatever it takes to focus, fight hard, and get a result.

Royal Antwerp FC v FC Barcelona: Group H - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Pedro Salado/Getty Images

Barcelona looks like a team that just wants to go home when the conditions don’t perfectly suit them.

Going forward, the club can’t just let this team continue on the course that it’s on.

The good news is that Barcelona finished in first place, so they are likely to get a favorable round of 16 draw.

Could be Copenhagen, could be PSG. But I’ll tell you one thing, if they can lose to Antwerp, they can lose to a confident Danish side that is playing well above their level.

Should we celebrate Barcelona making it to the knockouts as a sign of progress? How far has this great club fallen to allow that to be a benchmark of success.

No, the team needs to turn around their fortunes now. End the year on a high, starting with a win against Valencia.

Xavi is officially on the hotseat. Anymore setbacks, and the club won’t be able to justify keeping him around with so much still to play for this season.

Royal Antwerp FC v FC Barcelona: Group H - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Joris Verwijst/BSR Agency/Getty Images

The question, as always, is if not him, then who?

If that question can be answered, then a change must be considered, because things can easily go from bad, to worse, to ugly.

But in my heart, I hope Xavi can dig deep and figure out a way to get his team winning again.

It sounds like he still has the backing of his players, and that gives me hope.

As he likes to say, this is Barca.

You have to play well. And you have to win.

In order to do that, you also need the right man in charge.

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