Looking to avoid another early UCL exit, Barca crush Antwerp
Joao Felix struck twice as Barcelona flexed their muscles with a crushing 5-0 win over Royal Antwerp in the Champions League on Tuesday, showing their determination to be considered among Europe's elite once again.
After consecutive humiliating group stage eliminations Barcelona are desperate to go deep in this season's competition, last winning it eight years ago.
The victory followed a 5-0 thrashing of Real Betis on Saturday, leading coach Xavi Hernandez to describe these two performances as the best since he joined the club in November 2021.
"I think these last two games are the best level we have shown with me as coach -- it's the path to follow," he told Movistar.
Felix shone for the Spanish champions on a stroll on a warm night in the Catalan capital, helped on their way by an own goal, with Robert Lewandowski and Gavi also scoring.
After a troubled spell at Atletico Madrid and an even worse loan at Chelsea, the Portuguese forward finally seems ready to flourish.
"We all played really well, I am happy with the win and enjoying myself," said Felix.
"The most difficult thing now is to maintain this level. I have started well, the team is playing well.
"Getting to this level it's not the most difficult thing, it's maintaining it. We all have to work hard to do that."
Barcelona's 2015 triumph was the last in a run of four victories over a golden decade in the club's history, during which current coach Xavi Hernandez was a key figure in midfield.
Xavi said those feats weighed heavy on the club now, that the current team were under "brutal" pressure to succeed in Europe.
It did not show against Antwerp, with Barcelona brushing aside Marc van Bommel's Belgian title-winners with ease in their first Champions League appearance at the Olympic Stadium.
With Felix and Joao Cancelo joining on loan at the end of the summer transfer window, Barcelona immediately appear a more dynamic side, with supreme creative quality in the final third reflected in successive five-goal wins.
Felix opened the scoring for Barca after 11 minutes with a fine drilled finish after a neat passing move ended with Ilkay Gundogan feeding him.
Lewandowski added the second eight minutes later from close range after Frenkie de Jong's superb ball found Felix, who crossed to the back post. It was the veteran Polish striker's 100th European goal.
Barcelona went three goals up inside 22 minutes when Raphinha's cross was deflected into his own net by Jelle Bataille.
Gavi added the fourth early in the second half with a blistering strike into the top corner after a long spell of Barcelona possession.
Raphinha created Barcelona's fifth with a vicious cross to the back post where Felix nodded home as the hosts kept up the pressure.
"Joao Felix has a lot of quality, a lot of talent and he's showing it," De Jong told Movistar.
"I hope he can keep going like this. If he keeps working like now, he will give a lot to us."
Xavi brought on 16-year-old starlet Lamine Yamal to become the second youngest player of all time in the competition's history.
Tougher challenges lie ahead, including a visit to Porto in their next European game at the start of October, but Barcelona's self-esteem is higher than at any point since Lionel Messi left in 2021.
Xavi said Barcelona's aim was to make it through the group first before worrying about bigger challenges, and this was a confident first step.
"It's an honour to watch the team play at the moment but we have to remain consistent now," warned the Catalan coach.
"We have to maintain these performances, the hunger, the focus... the players are enjoying themselves, we're creating a lot in attack."
Xavi's opposite number, a former team-mate of his at Barcelona, praised the hosts' display.
"For me, Barca, with how they have developed and evolved, of course they have a chance of winning the Champions League," said Antwerp coach Van Bommel.
"But they need some luck ... there are a lot of factors."
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