Xavi Hernandez has said he is still angry that Barcelona are no longer in the Champions League but added he is working hard to return the club to Europe’s premier competition.
Barca were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage this season, finishing below Bayern Munich and Benfica, and kick off their first Europa League campaign since 2004 at Camp Nou against Napoli on Thursday.
“The [Europa League] is an opportunity for us, “Xavi said in a news conference 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 LaLiga or win the Europa League.
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“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’s still a European competition. We’re not talking about the third division. It’s a chance to keep growing and everyone is motivated to win a trophy that the club has never won before.”
So raw is Barca’s Champions League elimination, Xavi did not even want to talk about Paris Saint-Germain’s 1-0 win over Real Madrid on Tuesday courtesy of a late Kylian Mbappe goal.
“Don’t talk to me about Mbappe,” he said. “He is a great player, as are Neymar and [Lionel] Messi and PSG and Madrid are great sides, but we’re not in that competition, unfortunately.
“It makes me angry, I’m very competitive, a winner, and I’m angry to have been knocked out of the Champions League, but we have to fix that. We have to be there. But do not ask me about Mbappe. “
Barca and Napoli met in the last-16 of the Champions League two years ago, with the Catalans progressing on that occasion, and Xavi said the fact they now face the Italians in the round of 32 of the Europa League shows the strength of the competition .
“We were unlucky with the draw,” he added. “Napoli are a Champions League-level side. It is going to be a difficult tie. I would not say we’re favorites [for the competition or the tie].
“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 favorites. “
Xavi, who said his first 100 days in charge of the club have “felt like 100 years,” is happy with the progress he’s seen since replacing Ronald Koeman in November, during which time Barca have climbed from ninth to fourth in the league.
“We’ve improved a lot,” he said. “We’re competing better, we’re pressing better and we’re much better after losing the ball. Results and sensations are improving, but there’s still a long way to go. We’re growing and we’re on the right path , working hard [to return to the Champions League]. “
Barca will be without Dani Alves, Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti for the game against the Serie A side, while Ronald Araujo is also a major doubt, leaving them short in defense.
Xavi said Ousmane Dembele, who was jeered by his own supporters in the recent win over Atletico Madrid when he was an unused substitute, could make his first appearance at Camp Nou this year following a contract dispute.
Napoli will be missing Hirving Lozano, Matteo Politano and Stanislav Lobotka while striker Victor Osimhen is touch-and-go.