Barcelona, which next plays at Real Madrid in the ``clasico'' on Sunday, will need a small miracle to avoid elimination from the group stage of the Champions League for the second straight year after winning only one of its four games so far. A 3-3 draw at home against Inter Milan on Wednesday left it on the verge of another unwanted ticket to the Europa League.
That was not in the plans when Barcelona mortgaged its future by selling off part of its television rights and other assets to be able to invest in new players. Club president Joan Laporta argued that the risk was worth getting the team back to winning major titles and past the painful exit of Lionel Messi.
Barcelona's slim hopes of advancing in the Champions League hangs on winning its two remaining group matches and Inter failing to take three points against Viktoria Plzen and group winner Bayern Munich.
Robert Lewandowski, at least, has proven to be worth the money. The 34-year-old Poland striker has scored 14 goals in 12 games in all competitions since leaving Bayern; he leads the Spanish league with eight goals; and he shares the scoring lead in the Champions League with Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah with five goals each. Lewandowski's two goals against Inter this week saved Barcelona from a loss.
``After a bad game you have to face up to reality in the best way possible, show that you can play well and win,'' Lewandowski told DAZN television ahead of his first ``clasico'' against Real Madrid. ``It is a tough moment but we know that we have the opportunity in the `clasico' to go out there and win the game.''
The rival teams are tied on points at the top of the standings, with Barcelona ahead on goal difference after both have seven wins and one draw.
Barcelona has been hard hit by injuries, especially in defense after recently losing defenders Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen and Hector Bellerin.
That left Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez with only Eric Garcia and veteran Gerard Pique as center backs against Inter. Pique, a regular starter before this season, was booed on Wednesday after he let a ball go over him that led to a goal for Inter.
The only good news is that Kounde, who can play at right back or in the center of the defense, was back in training with his teammates on Thursday.
Barcelona's defense will have to handle a Madrid attack headed by Karim Benzema and the speedy Vinicius Junior, who leads his team with seven goals. Benzema, Rodrygo and Federico Valverde have each chipped in with four goals.
Real Madrid is unbeaten in 13 games overall this season and seeking to defend both its European and Spanish titles.
The game will also feature Barcelona's eye-catching shirts bearing the owl logo of singer Drake.
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