Xavi can salvage Barca's Champions League dream by beating Benfica
PETE JENSON: Xavi can salvage Barcelona’s Champions League dream by beating Benfica in a game worth £10.4m tonight… he won’t be blamed if they go out, but the Europa League will do NOTHING for LaLiga’s crisis club
- Barcelona’s Champions League campaign hinges on tonight’s clash with Benfica
- Win, and they reach the knockout stages while pocketing £10.4m for advancing
- Lose, and they are faced with Europa League football and a hole in their finances
- No one will blame Xavi given the hand he has been dealt since returning to Barca
- But with a depleted squad, Barca’s new boss is already facing an uphill battle
No pressure Xavi, tonight’s game is only worth £10.4million to the club.
Win, and you are in the knockout stages of the Champions League with the prize money that goes with it and the prospect of slightly healthier looking accounts that might even allow for relaxed restrictions over what they can spend in January.
Lose, and it looks like Europa League football next March and another hole in the fragile finances – they have budgeted for reaching the quarter-finals.
Xavi can salvage Barcelona’s Champions League dream by beating Benfica on Tuesday night
Barcelona will earn £2.3m from winning on Tuesday night and the subsequent qualification to the next round will bring a further £8.1m.
That will certainly not harm the attempt to readjust the salary cap in their favour allowing them to spend more on wages at the end of next month.
If they lose they will go into the last game needing to beat Bayern Munich in Germany and for Benfica to slip up at home to Dynamo Kiev.
If that doesn’t happen then they will be in the Europa League where the glory and the potential financial gain are significantly diminished (while the workload of midweek games placing a strain on their attempt to finish in the top four in LaLiga remains).
Benfica humbled Barcelona with a 3-0 win the last time the two sides met back in September
The result in Lisbon heaped pressure on Ronald Koeman before he was sacked a month later
It’s a huge game. At least no one will blame him if they don’t get the result. Everyone knows he is on a wing and a prayer as he tries to salvage Barcelona’s Champions League season… in fact make that just a prayer, because most of the wingers are unavailable.
Xavi loves wingers; so much so that he played two teenagers in that position on his coaching debut at the weekend because there were no senior options.
Ansu Fati is still out injured. Ousmane Dembele has been named in the squad and has indicated that he wants to help the team but caution has been urged because he is still not 100 per cent.
It will be a major surprise if, after all these injury problems, he is risked from the first whistle.
Now Xavi is faced with turning the club’s fortunes around – but has a depleted squad
At the weekend Xavi called up 19-year-old Abde and 17-year-old Ilias for the 1-0 win over Espanyol but the latter is suspended from the Champions League because of a sending off in the UEFA Youth League, and the former is not registered to play the competition.
Yusif Demir, Luuk de Jong and Philippe Coutinho are not at the forefront of Xavi’s planning for the future, but one of them will probably have to start against Benfica because of the absence of viable alternatives.
De Jong will probably be moved on in January and it would be a surprise if Xavi started him.
Demir is the closest to the type of player Xavi wants wide in his front three but he struggled to make an impression earlier in the season when Ronald Koeman, also out of necessity, gave him minutes.
Ousmane Dembele (left) has been named in the squad but is not fully fit while Philippe Coutinho (right) is not at the forefront of Xavi’s planning for the future but could start
Coutinho does not want to play as a winger, certainly not the type of winger Xavi wants. He was left out of Xavi’s debut but he could start on Tuesday, even as a false nine with Memphis back out wide.
Sergino Dest is another option but again, a far from perfect one. He, like Dembele, is back in the squad, but just like Dembele he is not 100 per cent.
A back problem has slowed him down and for such a big game it would be another huge risk.
Whatever forward line Xavi picks it will fall well short of what he wants but to steal the phrase that killed Koeman’s ratings among fans and directors: ‘it is what it is’.
President Joan Laporta has budgeted for Barca to reach the quarters and can’t afford to lose
On the bright side for Barcelona, since beating them in the Champions League Benfica have only won four of the nine games they have played. And there will be another sizeable crowd at the Nou Camp for the game.
Xavi doubled the attendance at the weekend with 74,418 a huge increase on the previous gate in LaLiga.
They will be out in force again on Tuesday: at the gates as the team coach reaches the stadium; singing Xavi’s name on minute six, and trying to believe that the new messiah can lead them to the promised land – which in current circumstances is the draw for the last-16 on December 13.
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