Some may dismiss the event, but it provides Xavi’s rejuvenated young team with one last chance to close out a disappointing 2021-22 campaign with a trophy.
After the dust settled on Barcelona‘s Champions League elimination, the immediate criticism and belittling of the Europa League have died down.
Many supporters who previously said they’d rather be eliminated right away from the secondary European competition have had a change of heart ahead of Thursday’s clash with Napoli at Camp Nou.
It also helps that the Italians are visiting, establishing a beautiful link and a Maradona derby that genuinely matters rather than Barcelona’s journey to Saudi Arabia to face Boca Juniors in a friendly earlier this season.
Xavi’s men are desperate to make amends for their humiliating elimination from the Champions League, which will inevitably hurt Barca even more after they saw off Napoli 5-1 on aggregate in the round of 16.
Now there is a chance to end the season on a high note with silverware, and it doesn’t get any better than the Europa League final.
“We are very happy to be playing in this game,” midfielder Carles Alena said at a press conference on Wednesday. “It’s another final and it would be great to finish off with some silverware.”
What is more, despite Barcelona standing just one point away from wrapping up their 25th Liga title, the season has felt incomplete without a major trophy to show for their efforts.
After all, there has been an uncanny hint of slow decay in this team since they won the double in 2014-15 that was only heightened by dropping out of Europe’s top competition this year.
Barcelona’s last double came under Pep Guardiola eight years ago, and it is worth noting that he didn’t win another trophy for the rest of his tenure after completing the second half of a treble.
The difference is that under Guardiola, Barca was still fighting for La Liga weeks after winning the Copa del Rey, whereas in this campaign they wrapped up their league title with five games to spare. If they beat Napoli, they will have a second chance at a treble next weekend when they face Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final. However, their last treble was duly completed back in 2015, and after two barren years without a European crown, the hunger is certainly there to complete another historic journey.
Barcelona’s main problem this season has been the drop in quality from MSN, who have struggled compared to previous seasons.
The team relies much more on Lionel Messi than ever before, and Luis Suarez and Neymar have not been quite as lethal as they were two years ago.
Suarez has still scored 41 goals in all competitions, while Neymar has weighed in with 28 strikes. But Messi’s haul of 46 is more than the rest of his teammates combined.
It’s not just the forwards who have had an underwhelming season compared to previous years either. Sergi Roberto was a second-choice right-back at best until he blossomed into a regular starter in the second half of the campaign.
It all adds up to explain why Barca are now looking to claim their fourth Europa League crown, which would further secure La Blaugrana’s place as arguably the most successful team in the history of European club football.
The Spaniards have won Europe’s top prize four times, more than English giants Manchester United (three) and Liverpool (five). However, one of those titles came under Guardiola in 2009 when the Europa League was merely known as the UEFA Cup.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid has lifted the trophy on five occasions – but they’ve also won three European Cups since Barcelona’s most recent success in 2015. For the Blaugrana, it feels like time is running out to assert their dominance in European football once again.
“We still have not won the Europa League since it has been called that way,” Alena said. “I hope we can win several titles before I retire.”
But winning won’t be easy against Napoli , which has impressed in Europe this season.
The Italians are currently third in Serie A after winning the Italian Cup, so they will be keen to claim yet another trophy by upsetting Barca for a second season running.
Last year’s showdown with Athletic Bilbao remains one of the most memorable matches of Barcelona’s recent past, as Athletic took a commanding 3-1 lead at Camp Nou before Messi inspired a comeback for the ages. If he can repeat that performance, perhaps Barcelona FC may be able to leave Italy with another trophy in tow.
However, since losing Neymar and coach Tito Vilanova to illness over the winter break, Barca’s season looks to have been on a downward trajectory. The team has won just one major trophy since then, and they have failed to recapture their sensational attacking form from previous years.
Although Enrique has so far kept his job after it looked like he was on the verge of being replaced for much of this season, many within Barcelona’s fan base are starting to grow restless with the former Celta boss.
Mediocrity in the team
The club would hate to see another trophy go to waste by failing to overcome Napoli, but Enrique’s men will need to raise their game if they are going to replicate the heroics of last year’s semi-final here in Italy. The Blaugrana haven’t won Europe’s top prize since 2015, and it could be argued that they’ve been mediocre in Europe with the Europa League.
Barcelona FC’s last league title came in 2014/15, and the Spaniards haven’t won a major trophy since 2016. While they may be able to secure another treble by beating Sevilla in this year’s Copa del Rey final, it feels like time is running out for them to assert their dominance in European football.
If the Blaugrana are going to claim their fourth Europa League crown, they’re going to have to break down a Napoli side that has impressed this season. The Italians currently sit third in Serie A after winning the Italian Cup, so they will be keen to claim another trophy by upsetting Barca for a second season running.
While Enrique has so far kept his job after it looked like he was on the verge of being replaced for much of this season, many within Barcelona FC’s fan base are starting to grow restless with the former Celta boss. It seems that Barca may have been mediocre in Europe with the Europa League, given their inability to win it in recent years.