Barcelona: It all seemed too good to be true for Xavi and Barcelona.
Their summer spending spree was validated by La Liga and their new signings, including Robert Lewandowski, hit the ground running.
The overhaul sent them back to the top of La Liga for the first time since June 2020, and the “Xavineta” (Xavi truck, as his project is fondly known in Catalonia) picked up new passengers in droves, with Camp Nou attendances booming once more.
But the thorn in their side, their Champions League failure over the past seven campaigns, remains. And after last year’s humiliating group stage exit, Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat by Inter Milan puts Barcelona in a precarious position.
They welcome the Italians next week at Camp Nou, a match which they must win, with Bayern Munich leading Group C on nine points, ahead of Inter on six, Barca on three and pointless Viktoria Plzen bottom.
After the lavish investment in Lewandowski, Raphinha and Jules Kounde, among others, there are no excuses for failure — although Barcelona left San Siro with plenty of ammunition.
On Monday, Xavi insisted La Liga was a fairer competition than the Champions League, which comes down to a handful of crucial moments, tiny details, and was proved right quicker than he hoped.
Barcelona had a goal harshly ruled out for handball and were denied a penalty when Inter defender Denzel Dumfries handled in the area late on.
In a game of few clear-cut chances, these moments were decisive.
The Catalans ran into a brick wall in Inter Milan’s tight defence, with Gavi and Raphinha finding little space.
It didn’t help that Ousmane Dembele, who has sparkled this season, was at his inconsistent worst, with his crosses going awry. It was only when he got one right that Barcelona did create danger.
Andre Onana was drawn out and could only deflect the ball into Pedri’s path, for the midfielder to tap home. However, the goalkeeper nudged the ball against Ansu Fati’s hand on its way to Pedri, and after watching it again, Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic disallowed the goal.
Barcelona left the pitch furious as Dumfries handled in stoppage time, but this time the official did not re-watch the incident on the pitch-side VAR screen.
Injustice says Xavi
“I am furious. It is an injustice,” said Xavi. “Referees have to come out and explain themselves because I don’t understand anything. (He) did not want to give me an explanation after the game.”
Regardless, the points are on the board now and that converts the return at Camp Nou into a must-win game for Barcelona. Any other outcome would leave them likely needing to beat Bayern, a team they have lost against five times in a row, including the infamous 8-2 Lisbon battering in 2019-20.
Barcelona hoped with the remodelling of the squad their European ghosts from the past could be forgotten, but their visit to Milan shows that will not be as easy as it looked.