Barcelona manager Xavi: Hearing the Champions League music made me angry

Spanish are playing in the Europa League for the first time since 2004 and take on Napoli at Camp Nou on Thursday

Xavi Hernandez took over as Barcelona manager in November and has reached 100 days in charge of the La Liga club. AFP
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Barcelona manager Xavi Hernández admitted that the pain of being knocked out of the Champions League is still very raw.

The Spanish giants face Napoli in the Europa League round-of-32 first leg at Camp Nou on Thursday, taking part in the second-tier competition for the first time since 2004.

Their Champions league dream was brutally ended in the knockout stage when they finished third in their group behind Bayern Munich and Benfica, scoring just two goals in six matches.

“The [Europa League] is an opportunity for us,” Xavi said on Wednesday. “Our main aim is to get back in the Champions League next season and there are two ways to do that: Finish in the top four in La Liga or win the Europa League.

“Of course we would like to be in the Champions League. It hurts that we're not there. Hearing the Champions League music on television [on Tuesday] made me angry.

“But we're in another competition. It is still a European competition. We're not talking about the third division. It is a chance to keep growing and everyone is motivated to win a trophy that the club has never won before.”

Xavi took over as manager in November, replacing the sacked Ronald Koeman, and has had to deal with huge financial restraints with the club stating recently that €159 million ($179m) has been cut from their wage bill due to the crisis caused by the previous board's reckless spending.

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Barca have climbed from ninth to fourth in La Liga since Xavi's arrival, which has just reached the 100 day mark. 100 days? Sometimes it feels like 100 years because we’ve been through unexpected situations,” he admitted.

“We’ve managed them and what I want is for Barca to be where they should be again. We have to push forward, even if it’s not the best moment in the club’s history.

“It looks like 100 years with the injuries and conditions that have befallen us. But we have improved, we are competing, as shown in the league. Things have to be improved but the league is the one that tells you if you are on the right track and I think we are growing and we are positive.”

Barca last took on Napoli in the last-16 of the Champions League two years ago with the Catalans progressing 4-2 on aggregate when the now departed Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were among the scorers in a 3-1 win at Camp Nou in the second leg.

Xavi, whose team drew 2-2 with Espanyol in La Liga at the weekend, said the fact they now face the Serie A title-chasers in the Europa League shows the strength of the competition.

“We were unlucky with the draw,” he said. “Napoli are a Champions League-level side. It is going to be a difficult tie. I would not say we're favourites.

“It is an open draw. Napoli are one of the toughest teams in the competition and we have to play the second leg away from home next week. There are other teams, like Sevilla, in this competition with a lot of experience. We're candidates, but I would not say favourites.”

Updated: February 16, 2022, 5:57 PM