Napoli visit begins Xavi’s final chance of Barca pride

Xavi Hernandez left Barcelona in 2015 after lifting a glorious treble, but his hopes of a second triumphant farewell as coach have been whittled away.

The former midfield great’s last real chance of silverware this season is in the Champions League, with the Catalans visiting Napoli in a last 16 first leg clash Wednesday.

After his team were thrashed by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final and knocked out of the Copa del Rey, Xavi said he would leave his job at the end of the season.

Eight points off leaders Madrid in La Liga, it seems like only a European run can bring Xavi and his beleaguered Spanish champions some respite.

However the club’s travails on the continent in recent years do not bode well, with humiliating defeats — to Roma, Liverpool, Bayern Munich — still vivid memories.

In the past two seasons Barcelona had failed to make it out of their group.

The last time the Catalans managed to get their hands on the Champions League, back in 2015, it was Xavi lifting the trophy.

Then 35, Xavi tearfully departed after 17 seasons at the top level with Barcelona, expecting that a team powered by Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez could o on to dominate European football for years to come.

Instead, the project crumbled under the weight of mismanagement and heaving salaries and Barcelona have been sinking ever since, with Xavi called in to rescue the team as coach in November 2021.

Although he led Barcelona to La Liga last season, the football did not convince and this term the team have stalled, leading Xavi to announce his second exit.

Since his announcement, Barcelona have won three league games and drawn one, although their performances have not been impressive.

“After the decision it’s been 10 points from 12, I think it’s worked out well,” said Xavi.
– ‘Pumped up’ –

Barcelona players are also conscious the Champions League offers them a chance to snatch at rapidly fading chances of glory.

“When the music rings out … that energy, that desire, we have to go out there pumped up,” defender Ronald Araujo said on YouTube this week.

“I know the importance of it, and what the Champions League represents for a player and for the club, we have responsibilities.”

Striker Robert Lewandowski has found form at a crucial moment of the season, with four goals in his last three games.

“We’ve been working very hard this week, I think we can do better in the Champions League,” said the Polish star.

“In Napoli we have to play for 90 minutes well in defence and attack.”

Napoli forwards Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia will relish facing a Barcelona defence which has caved in badly in this campaign, but the Italian champions are in turmoil as they too struggle badly in the league.

The Catalans may have Joao Felix available again after injury as he trained with his team-mates on Monday.

The Portuguese forward has failed to convince consistently but has shown flashes of outrageous talent which could be enough to propel Barcelona through.

“They’ve shown me stats … we would be leaders based on chances created,” said Xavi on Saturday, bemoaning his team’s lack of finishing quality this season in La Liga.

If his team can improve their finishing, the visit to Napoli is the potential start of Barca’s road towards, if not redemption, then at least some restored pride. BSS

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