FC Barcelona is one of the world’s most successful football teams, with 132 domestic, European, and international trophies since its formation in 1899.
Having started the current season unbeaten, Barcelona supporters hope they will see their beloved team lift the UEFA Champions League trophy for the first time since the 2014-15 campaign. Is that likely to happen? Stranger things have happened.
The 2014-15 Barcelona team was something else. Current head coach Xavi was the team’s captain, and he took to the field with such luminaries as Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, and the supremely talented strike trio of Luis Suarez, Neymar, and the legendary Lionel Messi. The most trusted online sportsbooks had that Barcelona team favorite to win every competition it entered, and the squad lived up to the hype, winning La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the prestigious Champions League.
Keeping Tabs on Real Madrid
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Fastforward to the present, and the current Barcelona squad looks very different from the one that swept opponents aside in 2014-15. It is a roster crammed with talented players from around the globe, but Xavi has instilled a winning mentality into his men, which is showing on the pitch.
Aside from the disappointing 0-0 draw against Getafe on the opening day of the La Liga season, a shock 2-2 draw against Mallorca, and being held 2-2 away at Granada, Barcelona has won all of its league fixtures. Seven wins and three draws mean Barcelona are third in La Liga, tied on 24 points with the surprise package of the season so far, Girona, and one point behind arch-rivals Real Madrid, who they play in the first El Classico of the 2023-24 season on October 28.
A Solid Start in the Champions League
While Barcelona are all but guaranteed to challenge for La Liga honors during the current campaign, it is the Champions League that Xavi and his coaching staff are determined to win. Barcelona is in Group H, which is one of the easier groups if such a thing exists at this level of football. Portugal’s FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine, and Belgium’s Royal Antwerp are Barcelona’s Group H opponents, and the Spaniards have defeated all three so far.
Barcelona made light work of Royal Antwerp in their opening Group H fixture, demolishing the Belgian outfit 5-0 at their temporary Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys home; Barcelona has relocated while renovations to its famous Camp Nou stadium are completed.
Xavi’s men traveled to FC Porto for their second Champions League fixture and returned with all three points after a hard-fought encounter.
Shakhtar Donetsk was the latest team to take on Barca in the Champions League and the latest team to return home empty-handed. First-half goals from former Manchester City forward Ferran Torres and Fermin Lopez put the home team in control, and while Heorhii Sudakov pulled a goal back midway through the second half, with the away team’s first shot on target, Barcelona held out for another victory and never looked in trouble at any stage.
A Lack of Striking Options Will Hinder Barcelona
Barcelona is a team that has always boasted elite strikers and is renowned for scoring many goals. Between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 seasons, Barcelona scored at least 100 goals in La Liga alone. Last season saw them find the back of the net 70 times in 38 games, their second-lowest total in 20 years. The team looks to be back to its brilliant best in front of goal, with 22 La Liga goals in 10 games, but a lack of striking options could hinder their progress as the long, arduous campaign rolls on.
Robert Lewandowski is Barcelona’s main striker. The Polish icon joined the Catalan club in July 2022 and has scored 39 goals in 56 appearances and assisted 12 more goals for teammates. Lewandowski has six goals and one assist in the seven Champions League games he has played in Barcelona’s famous colors. However, the 35-year-old has been out of action since October 5 with an ankle injury. Although Lewandowski does not miss many games through injury, relying on a 35-year-old to lead from the front is not ideal.
Portuguese star Joao Felix, the fourth-most expensive football player of all time, joined Barcelona on loan from Atletico Madrid and has hit the ground running. However, Xavi substituted Felix in the 75th minute in the recent Shakhtar Donetsk clash, with the youngster limping off with an apparent knock.
Those injuries leave Barcelona with 17-year-old Marc Guiu as the team’s only recognized striker, and although the teenager scored on his full Barcelona debut, it is a tall ask for him to lead the line for one of the world’s premier teams. Torres can fill in for Lewandowski and Felix, but he is not an out-and-out striker. Brazilian sensation Raphinha and 16-year-old Lamine Yamal are Barcelona’s other forward options, and they both play as wingers.
Can Barcelona Win the Champions League This Season?
It would take a brave person to bet against Barcelona winning the UEFA Champions League for the first time in almost ten years, but Xavi’s boys are going to need more than their fair share of luck if that is to happen. On paper, Barcelona has one of the best starting XI in world football, but that strength does not extend further than the first few substitutes.
Barcelona must strengthen its squad in the January transfer window, with a striker their main priority. The problem lies in that it is a well-known fact the club is strapped for cash, making a mega-money move for a superstar unlikely. In addition, any striker joining the club knows they will play second fiddle to Lewandowski when the Pole is fit, which limits Barcelona’s choice of player.
The latest Champions League odds make Manchester City favorites to win back-to-back titles, followed by Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Arsenal, with Barcelona fifth-favorites. That looks like a fair assessment, as a quarter-final appearance looks the most likely outcome for Xavi and his team. However, they will significantly influence who navigates their way to the final at Wembley Stadium on June 1.