FC Barcelona head coach Xavi Hernandez and his players must have breathed a huge collective sigh of relief when the full time whistle on their comeback win against Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Sealed by goals from the two Joaos, Cancelo and Felix, the 2-1 victory guaranteed that Barca will qualify for the knockout phase in Europe’s elite competition for the first time since 2021 whether that is as the winners of Group H or runners-up.
As indicated by UEFA figures and a report from Mundo Deportivo, beating Porto will replenish Barca’s battered coffers with much needed prize money and there could be more to come if the Catalans beat Royal Antwerp in their final group game and then later advance to the quarter finals.
This development also bought Xavi time, a valuable commodity that was beginning to run out for the club legend in the manager’s hotseat.
Though he brought a maiden La Liga crown to Camp Nou for the first time in four years, the former number 6 had a black cloud hanging over him for overseeing back-to-back failures to reach the business end of the Champions League.
When Barca were turfed out of the tournament and thrust into the inferior Europa League, he wasn’t able to steer his men to the trophy as consolation in two separate sittings either as Eintracht Frankfurt and Manchester United delivered respective hammer blows in 2022 and 2023.
Whether Barca can retain the Spanish championship this season or not, Xavi will ultimately be judged on how far his team advance in Europe.
Losses to Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk have brought in doubts about his suitability for one of football’s most demanding roles, and he wasn’t naive enough to believe that is job is now safe because of this week’s exploits.
“Problems are never solved at Barca,” Xavi noted with a laugh in a post-match interview with Movistar, before insisting that the focus should be on congratulating the club and team for their achievements above all without looking beyond the here and now.
Xavi knows that there are difficult ties coming up against Atletico Madrid and Girona at the top of the table this week and last, and if Barca don’t come out of those meetings to the satisfaction of the all-powerful entorno, or environment, that surrounds the Blaugrana, he will again be taken to task.
Though he has a little breathing space for now, Xavi will, like most managers at top outfits, be judged more in the spring.
Barca aren’t expected to win the UCL, but at least going out on their shield in the quarter-finals or semi-finals and mounting a reasonable La Liga title defense could guarantee him another term in the hotseat.
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