On Tuesday night, Barcelona began their journey in their second official competition of the season as they took on Royal Antwerp on the first matchday of the UEFA Champions League.
The expectations for Xavi Hernandez’s men heading into the new iteration of the competition were sky-high, especially after they made two consecutive group stage exits in recent years. This time around, there are no excuses for the Blaugranas to disappoint in Europe.
On the night, Xavi opted to start the same defensive line as the last league match, with only one change in midfield.
Gavi, Frenkie de Jong, and Ilkay Gundogan started in the middle of the park, while Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, and Joao Felix played in the attack.
It was one-way traffic right from the get-go. Royal Antwerp never settled into the game and got going, while Barcelona appeared comfortable from the very first whistle.
It only took eleven minutes for the hosts to net their first goal of the night and take home the lead. Like the game against Real Betis, it was Joao Felix who did the honours.
A lovely one-two between Gundogan and Lewandowski helped set up the Portuguese star who took a touch, settled himself, and tucked the ball away with ease.
Eight minutes later, Barcelona were back celebrating voraciously on the field. The opening this time was created by Frenkie de Jong who found Joao Felix in space. The scorer of the first goal expertly lobbed the ball into Lewandowski’s path for a simple volleyed finish.
Two goals to the good, Barcelona were in the driver’s seat. Raphinha rubbed salt into Royal Antwerp’s wounds in the 22nd minute of play when his chipped cross from the left of the box clipped a defender and found its way into the back of the net.
The Blaugranas’ first-half chances did not end there, and the story could have been far worse for the visitors. However, Antwerp delivered a better defensive show for the remainder of the first period and entered the breakdown by three goals.
Xavi’s men showed no mercy after the break despite having a dominant lead. Less than two minutes into the second period, Gundogan found himself in a clear goalscoring chance but miscued the shot.
The fourth goal did finally come in the 54th minute of the game, with Gavi getting himself on the scoresheet. Miscommunication between Lewandowski and Gundogan saw Joao Cancelo’s cross fall kindly for the La Masia prodigy who made no mistake in sending the ball into the roof of the net.
Oriol Romeu and Fermin Lopez made their entry into the field close to the hour mark with Frenkie de Jong and Gavi coming off.
Barcelona put five goals past Real Betis at the weekend and did the same tonight through Joao Felix’s header. However, it was notably Raphinha who created the chance out of nothing with his dancing feet before crossing it into the youngster’s path.
Xavi then made his next set of substitutions as Ferran Torres and Lamine Yamal replaced Raphinha and Joao Felix respectively. Minutes later, Sergi Roberto came on for Joao Cancelo for the final change.
The final 15 minutes saw Lamine Yamal get repeated chances to make history and become the youngest goalscorer in UEFA Champions League history. However, he miscued two shots while Jean Butez denied him on one occasion.
The visitors attempted to make a couple of adventurous runs into Barcelona’s area late in the game but could not reap any rewards. The result, by that point, was written in stone after all.
With this win, Barcelona move to the top of their UCL group with a dominant goal difference. Their next immediate challenge will be against Celta Vigo at home, while their next UCL game will be a tricky affair against Porto at Estadio do Dragao.