Preview: Barcelona face tricky game at Celta Vigo before focusing on Napoli trip

AP , Thursday 15 Feb 2024

Xavi Hernandez will have one more chance to get his Barcelona playing well before their first Champions League knockout-round game in three years.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder #08 Pedri (C) and teammates react to the equalizer scored by Granada's Uruguayan forward #19 Facundo Pellistri during the Spanish league football match between FC Barcelona and Granada FC at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys in Barcelona on February 11, 2024. Photo: AFP


Barcelona cross northern Spain to Celta Vigo on Saturday, four days before they travel to Napoli in the Champions League round of 16.

Xavi stunned Barcelona less than three weeks ago when he announced he would not continue as coach after this season. He cited “mental fatigue” and said he hoped his announcement would release the tension he felt on his team. But Barcelona still look like a side ill-equipped to make a deep run in Europe’s elite competition.

After wins over Osasuna and Alaves, Barcelona had to endure jeers from their fans last weekend when they struggled to salvage a 3-3 draw against a relegation-threatened Granada. And that was with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen back in the lineup after he missed several weeks injured.

“Our defensive errors are killing us and have marked our season,” Xavi said after being irate at his team’s mistakes. “We cannot have any more slips.”

At first glance, the game against Rafa Benitez’s Celta looks like just what Barcelona need. Celta are one spot and three points above the drop zone and have lost four of their last five games across La Liga and the Copa del Rey.

But Balaidos Stadium has proven to be one of the toughest grounds for Barcelona in recent years. Barcelona have won only one of their last eight visits to Celta, in 2020.

Celta striker Iago Aspas has done most of the damage against Barcelona, scoring 10 goals in 18 career league games against the Catalan club. The 36-year-old Aspas, however, is no longer a sure bet to start for Benítez after scoring only three times in this campaign.

Jorgen Strand Larssen is Celta’s top-scoring threat with nine league goals. United States midfielder Luca de la Torre and Aspas have helped with five assists each.

Barcelona are in third place at 10 points behind leader Real Madrid.

Their game at Napoli comes after it failed to advance from the Champions League group phase in the previous two seasons.

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