Xavi: “It’s ended up being a beautiful Europa League”
The Barcelona boss focussed on looking ahead despite scare-show in Plzen
Xavi Hernández spoke to the press after Barcelona’s unconvincing but highly entertaining 2-4 win over Plzen on Tuesday evening. The Catalan side created a multitude of chances through at times exquisite attacking football but Plzen continued to pepper Iñaki Peña’s goal from simple offensive play that exposed Barcelona’s obvious weaknesses.
Luckily for Barça, their talent up front was too much for the home side to keep at bay for long enough between goals, and Alonso, Ferran and Pablo Torre put the scoreline beyond them. Michal Bílek’s side pumped long balls in behind Barcelona’s full backs and repeatedly swung crosses into the box, two straight-forward methods of attack that Barcelona failed to deal with on multiple occasions, leading the home side to be rightfully aggrieved that they will walk away from their final group game - and the Group Stage as a whole - pointless.
Despite the shaky performance, Barcelona boss Xavi claimed “We were good in the first half. Although we conceded more chances than we normally do. We suffered more than normal in defence, especially from dead balls. We were good in attack and in ball circulation.”
Like has been the case from top to bottom in FC Barcelona over the past few weeks, Xavi was quick to point out the positives of playing in Europe’s second competition: “I would say we are candidates [to win] the Europa League. I understand why people will call us favourites. But last year we saw that it’s a complicated competition. It’s ended up being a beautiful Europa League with the teams that are in it and Barça is a candidate to fight for it and win.”
During the match, midfielder Franck Kessié suffered an injury: “Kessié is in a bad way and annoyed since he’s injured his hamstring”, Xavi said, “I think he was good until the injury. He was good in aerial duels, in bringing the ball out. He was unlucky with the injury.”
Given the disappointing situation of having nothing worthwhile riding on the outcome of the game, Xavi decided to make a host of changes, with goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen making way for academy graduate Iñaki Peña, as well as Pedri dropping out for midfielder Pablo Torre. “Pablo [Torre] played well. It was a difficult game for the central midfielders. They had to attack the space and that’s not his main quality. He has other qualities but he understood it and ended up scoring the 2-4 attacking the space.” He also departed early with an injury, but the manager quelled any worries about his fitness: “He has cramp, but it’s nothing serious.”
Finally, Xavi was asked for his summary of the horrible campaign in Europe that saw Barça crash out of the competition for the second consecutive year. Much was made of the club over summer of how the ‘economic levers’ would allow them to flex their muscles and build a squad capable of competing in Europe, but it has not been the case, with the club only collecting a possible 7 points out of 15 in the Group Stage: “The assessment of the Champions League is negative. We had qualification in our hands. But this stage of the competition had its moments and we didn’t take our chances: Bayern and Inter did. We didn’t win either in Munich nor in Milan. That’s the summary I give.”