Barca take a step forward
Xavi had spoken about Barcelona’s need to take a step forward in Europe this season and Tuesday’s 5-0 win over Antwerp felt very much like exactly that - a step in the right direction.
Some will say ‘yes but it’s only Antwerp’ - but it was the manner in which Barca dispatched the Belgian champions that really resonated and brought back memories of happier days in Europe.
There’s no doubt the squad has far more quality this season with the arrival of the two Joaos, Ilkay Gundogan and the emergence of Lamine Yamal.
Xavi has greater strength in depth and it’s showing. Barca won this one at a canter while Pedri and Ronald Araujo, two key players, sat watching from the stands due to injury.
Barca have now won two consecutive matches with a five-goal margin for the first time since 2017.
Last year’s title win was built on solid foundations and plenty of 1-0 wins, but the last two games have shown that Xavi’s team are starting to look a lot more like the Barca we all know and love.
Lewandowski joins Europe’s 100 club
Robert Lewandowski joined a select group of players on Tuesday when he scored his 100th European goal against Antwerp.
It was a lovely effort too from the Catalan giants. Frenkie de Jong drove forward and played a gorgeous pass to Joao Felix. The new signing then turned and crossed for Lewy to volley home at the far post.
! Robert Lewandowski has become the third player in history to reach 100 goals in European competition!— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) September 19, 2023
, ! pic.twitter.com/z4gZsNbrfh
That’s now 100 not out for Lewandowski who joins Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as the only players to hit the landmark in European competition.
Lewandowski could have had a couple more too, with better finishing, but the good news is he’s now scored in five of his last six matches for club and country.
The Poland international has voiced his complaints this season, about a lack of support, but the arrival of the two Joaos, the emergence of Lamine Yamal and the improved form of Raphinha and Ferran Torres mean he’s looking far less isolated.
Gundogan picks up where he left off
The arrival of Gundogan is also surely helping Lewandowski. The two players know each other well from their time at Dortmund, and the midfielder is another reason why Barca look to be moving in the right direction.
Gundogan is simply a cut above and will be vital on the European stage. His last appearance in the competition saw him lift the trophy and he simply picked up where he left off in Europe with his best Barca performance so far.
Ilkay Gündogan Antwerp:— BarçaTimes (@BarcaTimes) September 19, 2023
• 90 mins
• 100/106 passes completed (MOST)
• 1 ASSIST ️
• 4 chances created ⭐
• 100% long balls completed
• 100% tackles won
• 7 recoveries
Great display. pic.twitter.com/DZuaRFYKww
Xavi was left purring about Gundogan after the match, describing him as “heaven sent,” and you can see exactly why he was so keen to bring Germany’s captain in.
Gundogan’s vision, poise and experience were all on show against Antwerp and will be crucial to Barca’s European hopes this season.
Joao Felix proving the doubters wrong
Yet the star of the show for Barcelona was undoubtedly Joao Felix. The new signing scored twice, picked up an assist and announced gleefully after the match that he’s enjoying himself at Barcelona.
He’s certainly proving the doubters wrong, myself included, with his early performances at Barcelona and seems to have finally landed at the right club after struggling with Atletico and Chelsea.
3 - João Félix is only the second player to be involved in three goals (2 goals and 1 assist) in his debut for @FCBarcelona in @ChampionsLeague since at least 2003/04, after Robert Lewandowski in 2022 (3 goals v Viktoria Plzen).— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 19, 2023
There was certainly a lot to admire about Barca’s No. 14. His first goal was a clever finish that got Barca rolling, and he then popped up with a great assist for Robert Lewandowski.
Felix put the icing on the cake by scoring Barca’s fifth of the night on his first Champions League outing for his new club. It’s been a sensational start for Felix who already looks like a man on a mission.
Can we finally get excited about Barca in Europe?
It’s still early days of course but it’s difficult not to get excited by Barca’s performance, particularly after so much misery in Europe over recent years.
There’s a lot to like about the attacking, exciting team that Xavi is building this season in a bid to return the team to the top of European football.
Obviously the new signings have helped but the whole team is stepping up. Jules Kounde, De Jong, Balde, and Gavi were all excellent against Antwerp in a convincing win. There seems to be a buzz around the team that hasn’t been there for some time.
The goals are flying in, the confidence is flowing - so much so that we’re even seeing Cancelo throwing in a rabona cross on 25 minutes - is it finally time to get excited about Europe?