Barcelona manager Xavi hopes they will be competing for major European honours again next season despite experiencing their earliest exit in 25 years on Thursday.
Not since the 1998-99 campaign when they failed to make it out of a Champions League group containing eventual Treble winners Manchester United, have Barcelona failed to reach the last 16 of any European competition.
That is their fate this season following the 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford, which eliminated them from the Europa League.
It continues a terrible recent run in Europe for Barca, who failed to make it out of their Champions League group in the last two seasons, were beaten 4-1 at home by PSG in the last 16 the year before that and in 2020 suffered a humiliating 8-2 quarter-final loss to Bayern Munich.
“Hopefully next season,” said Xavi, when asked when the club who reached the last eight for 14 seasons in a row to 2021 would compete in the later stages again.
“Last year we weren’t able to compete in Europe. This year we have competed against Bayern and Inter and we have competed against Manchester United. We need to get better. But we have done well and we will come back even stronger next season.”
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Barcelona’s season is something of a conundrum.
As United manager Erik ten Hag pointed out, they are top of La Liga by eight points and last month won the Spanish Super Cup by beating a Real Madrid side who hammered Liverpool at Anfield.
“We have seen Real Madrid playing against Liverpool,” said the Dutchman. “We beat a really good opponent.”
This was Barcelona’s first defeat since October and ended their 18-match unbeaten run.
Xavi said his side missed the midfield influence of Gavi, who was suspended, and Pedri, who missed the Old Trafford match through injury.
“They are key players,” he said. “They always have time on the ball and are able to turn round and look for space. If they had played we would not have had as many issues.”
But Xavi also said his side struggled to manage the game, even though they led at half-time and appeared to be in control.
Over both legs, long-time United target Frenkie de Jong failed to impress and once United replaced Wout Weghorst with Antony, Barcelona, who were watched by Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano and technical director Txiki Begiristain, who like manager Pep Guardiola both used to work at the Nou Camp, couldn’t cope with the pace of the home side.
After acute financial issues, Xavi at least hopes this summer will see the club become more competitive in the transfer market.
“Let’s see what we can do in the summer window,” he said. “If we have enough room with regard to Financial Fair Play.
“We have had a few years where we have not been able to compete.”