An up-and-down few years for Barcelona, one of the world’s most recognisable football clubs, has seen the Catalan giants taking part in UEFA’s second-tier competition.
They face Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarter-final second leg on Thursday looking to end a turbulent season with a trophy to cap some impressive early work by head coach Xavi.
Barca qualified for the group stage of this season’s Champions League by virtue of finishing third in La Liga, behind Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid. However, drawn in the same group as Bayern Munich, Benfica, and Dynamo Kyiv, they struggled. Barca lost 3-0 away to both Bayern and Benfica, losing by the same scoreline at home to the German giants, eventually finishing on seven points and dropping into the Europa League.
Since then, they’ve improved. They faced a tricky tie against Napoli in the knockout round play-off, which they won 5-3 on aggregate. That was followed by Galatasaray in the round of 16, a tie they won 2-1 over two legs. As their performances have improved over time, many are beginning to see Barça as one of the favourites for the competition.
If Xavi’s side can best Frankfurt, one of West Ham or Lyon await in the semis. While either side represents a challenge, Barca will be considered among the firm favourites to win the competition if they progress to the last four.
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— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 14, 2022
Have Barcelona ever won the Europa League?
This is Barcelona’s first season in European football’s second-tier competition since it was rebranded in 2009 and they did not manage to win it during the UEFA Cup years. Being primarily a Champions League side in recent history, the Europa League has flown beneath Barca’s radar, but they are no strangers to the old format at least.
Barcelona’s first appearance in the competition came in the 1972/73 season, starting a run of five consecutive seasons at this level. From the 1990s onwards, Barça have competed in the competition three times. Most recently, in 2003/04, they were knocked out by Celtic in the round of 16: they couldn’t overcome a 1-0 loss in the first leg, only managing a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou. Celtic went on to be knocked out by another Spanish side in the next round, as they were eliminated 3-1 on aggregate by Villarreal.
The furthest Barcelona have ever managed to get in the competition is the semi-finals, a stage they will reach if they get past Eintracht Frankfurt. They first did so on their third appearance in the competition (and their first beyond the preliminary round), in the 1975/76 season. They lost to Liverpool, the eventual trophy winners, 2-1 over the two legs. They reached the semis again in 1977/78, when they were knocked out by PSV, who also went on to win the final.
Barca next made the semi-final stage in the 1995/96 season, where they were knocked out by Bayern Munich 4-3 over two legs. Bayern went on to win the competition, beating Bordeaux in the final. Their more recent appearance at the semi-final stage came in the 2000/01 season, when they lost 1-0 to Liverpool. In keeping with tradition, the team that beat them went on to win, with Liverpool defeating Deportivo Alaves 5-4 after extra time in a memorable contest.
Should Frankfurt knock out Barca this season, history suggests the trophy might be theirs…
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Will Barcelona qualify for next season’s Champions League?
Xavi’s appointment in early November, after the sacking of Ronald Koeman, was not immediately seen as an unqualified success. The former Barça midfielder was still in charge for the end of the Champions League group stage and could not prevent them dropping into the Europa League.
However, it looks like he has begun to turn things around. Barca are unbeaten in 15 in the league and are on a run of six consecutive wins, with three of those by a 4-0 scoreline. Those matches were at home to Athletic Bilbao, at home to Osasuna and, most importantly, away to Real Madrid. Xavi has also guided the team past Napoli and Galatasaray in the Europa League, and they look like a team playing with a plan.
The La Liga title looks out of sight, with Real Madrid a dozen points clear of anyone else. Barcelona are second and have a game in hand but, short of a collapse from the capital club, they will have to make do with competing to be the best of the rest. They’re level on points with Sevilla, who have played a game more, and four points clear of Real Betis in fifth with a game in hand.
That being the case, as long as Xavi’s side maintain their form between now and the end of the season, they should finish in the top four and qualify for the group stages of next season’s Champions League. Of course, as long as they’re in the Europa League, they have two routes to qualification open to them, as the Europa League winner also qualifies for the Champions League group stages. Either way, the Catalans should be back at Europe’s top table next season.