The last time Barcelona featured in the UEFA Cup

Barcelona are synonymous with the Champions League. It’s hard to imagine an age in which they didn’t compete in Europe’s elite club competition.

Most fans’ memories are of Lionel Messi bagging five against Bayer Leverkusen, Andres Iniesta breaking Chelsea hearts or MSN destroying Juventus in the 2015 final. A few might even recall the 2006 triumph, if you can remember that long ago.


However, things these days aren’t quite so straightforward.

Barça have one of their worst squads in recent memory, losing the talismanic Messi to Paris Saint-Germain earlier in the year, and they stand next to no chance in this season’s La Liga title race.

Their Champions League journey is over, too.

Consecutive 3-0 defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica left them with a mountain to climb to qualify for the knockout stages. Back-to-back 1-0 victories over Dynamo Kyiv gave them a shot in the arm, but the goalless draw with Benfica at Camp Nou meant they needed to match Benfica’s result on the final matchday.

If there’s one place the Blaugrana wouldn’t want to visit needing a good result, it’s Bayern Munich.

Memories of the 7-0 aggregate semi-final disaster in 2013 and the infamous 8-2 2020 defeat in Lisbon were fresh in the memory on Wednesday night, and as soon as Thomas Muller got the opener, it seemed impossible to think the visitors could overturn the deficit.

Instead, Leroy Sane bagged another before half time and Jamal Musiala rounded things off for a 3-0 victory, leaving Xavi bitter at the final whistle.

He admitted: “I’m angry. This is the reality and it pisses me off. We have to tackle it face on. There’s nothing else for it. A new era starts today. We start from zero.”

One phase of that new era will be the Europa League, whether Barça fans like it or not. Funnily enough, Xavi was part of their last team to compete in the equivalent of that competition, it being the UEFA Cup, back in 2003/04.

It seems offensive that the likes of Ronaldinho, Carles Puyol, Xavi and Iniesta would be forced to play in anything less than the Champions League, but due to a poor 2002/03 season in which Louis van Gaal was sacked mid-term before a league finish of sixth, that’s exactly what would happen.

Europe’s lesser competitions have the knack of bringing the embarrassing out of top football clubs. Just ask Tottenham and Arsenal. That’s how it started for Barça in the first round, being held by MSK Puchov 1-1 in the first leg. They conceded a 93rd minute equaliser to a Milan Jambor.

Head coach Frank Rijkaard said after the game: “We lost too many balls and the players were nervous and not clever enough to beat a good defence. It was better after the break, but a defensive blunder led to a draw. It is bad result, we would not even have been satisfied with a 1-0 win.”

The second leg saw the gap in quality between the two sides evidenced a little clearer, Barcelona running out 8-0 winners on the night as Ronaldinho scored a hat trick.


Barcelona’s team was full of talent / Clive Mason/GettyImages

Panionios, who currently play in Greece’s third tier, were dispatched 5-0 over two legs in the second round, before two victories over Brondby in the third round secured a 3-1 aggregate win

Where it would all unravel, however, was in the fourth round against Martin O’Neill’s Celtic.

The Catalan giants had a glut of chances to win in Glasgow, with both Ronaldinho and Javier Saviola missing gilt-edged opportunities to take the lead.

A half-time scuffle saw a player from each team sent off as Thiago Motta and goalkeeper Rab Douglas were dismissed, before Saviola received a straight red. Alan Thompson slammed in the only goal of the night, leaving the Scottish giants in the lead before the return fixture at Camp Nou.

A young David Marshall – who replaced Douglas in the first leg – was thrust into the spotlight and it was the Scotsman who proved to be Barça’s villain. He made a series of impressive stops from the likes of Gerard Lopez, Luis Enrique, Ronaldinho and Sergio Garcia to ensure the game finished 0-0.

Despite the raft of current and future world class players they had in their ranks, Barça had been knocked out before the quarter final stage. Xavi in particular struggled to put a pattern on the game, being hassled and hurried by Neil Lennon and Stiliyan Petrov.

Rijkaard was snarky after the game, quipping: “This is a very sad moment for the club – the UEFA Cup is a trophy we really wanted to win. However, I’m content that the team gave me everything that they had. It takes two teams to make a good game and unfortunately Celtic came to impose their game and to defend.”

Xavi may have been “pissed off” with the manner of his side’s defeat to Bayern Munich this year, but now he has to lead Barça as they make their first foray into Europe’s secondary competition in 17 years.

If that’s not a sign of the state the club currently finds itself in, then who knows what is.

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Source of the article

Author: XenBet