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  19 Oct 2021, 10:39

Time is now for Barca as bid for Champions League recovery begins

   MADRID, Oct 19, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - Barcelona want to build for the future

with the tantalising prospect of another group of teenage talents emerging
together, but for now reality still bites.

  After successive 3-0 losses to Bayern Munich and Benfica in Group E,
another loss at home to Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday would leave them on the
brink of Champions League elimination.

  It would bring closer the possibility of failing to reach the knock-out
stage for the first time since 2003, when Barca had not qualified for the
competition.

  The last time the club played in the group stage and crashed out was 2001,
when they dropped into the UEFA Cup where a team featuring Pep Guardiola and
Patrick Kluivert lost to eventual winners Liverpool in the semi-finals.

  Many of Europe's most prestigious clubs have recently endured outings in
Europe's secondary competition. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal,
Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Juventus have all featured in the Europa
League over the last decade.

  But for Barcelona, relegation would be particularly deflating, especially
coming after the departure of Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain.

  Unlike the Premier League, where six teams have for the best part of 10
years traded blows in the race for Champions League places, La Liga's leading
duo have hardly ever looked like missing out on the top four.

  In financial terms, the gaps have been bigger in La Liga, with first to
fifth separated by 600 million euros of revenue in the last figures recorded
before the pandemic, while in the Premier League the difference was more like
150 million.

  It means Barcelona's place in the Champions League has been more assured,
even if they have still shown impressive consistency during the Messi era to
advance to the last 16. Ending that run this year would be a blow to their
sense of status, stretching the distance even further between them and
Europe's elite.

  There would be more tangible costs too. Atletico Madrid threw away 15
million euros when they dropped into the Europa League in 2017, a figure that
would have been far more dramatic if they had not gone on to win the
competition.

  - 'Attitude and energy' -

  With total debts of 1.35 billion euros, Barcelona can ill-afford to have a
key source of revenue slashed, just as the club's president Joan Laporta is
hoping to begin the recovery with the return of fans to Camp Nou.

  At Sunday's club AGM, Laporta ran out of time to hold votes on key
strategic decisions like a 1.5 billion-euro revamp of stadium facilities and
relaxing a rule that says the board must resign if club debts are more than
double the earnings for two years in a row.

  The vote will now be held on Sunday, before Barcelona's home game against
Real Madrid and Laporta's request for more borrowing might not go down well
should the team's European prospects worsen in midweek.

  A 3-1 victory over Valencia in La Liga on Sunday offered a positive start
to a crunch week that could prove regenerative if two big games now go
Barcelona's way.

  For weeks, Koeman has insisted performances would improve once injured
players returned. Ansu Fati, back after 11 months out, is leading the charge
while Sergio Aguero came off the bench against Valencia to finally make his
debut.

  Fati, Pedri, Gavi and Nicolas Gonzalez are among those Barca are dubbing
the "Dream Teen" as the club attempt to harness some of the growing optimism
and good will surrounding their latest crop of talents.

  But if that is the future, Dynamo Kiev is the present, the need for results
is pressing.

  "The game against Dynamo is very important. We have to continue with this
attitude and energy," said Koeman on Sunday night. "Before then I have two
days of calm and I'm going to make the most of it."

 

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