Thursday. 30.11.2023

Xavi does not believe Barcelona are favourites to win the Europa League as they prepare to face Napoli in a play-off first leg on Thursday.

The Blaugrana's run of 17 successive years competing in the knockout rounds of the Champions League came to a halt when they finished third behind Bayern Munich and Benfica in Group E.

Barca will do battle with Serie A side Napoli for a place in the round of 16 in their first experience of playing in Europe's secondary club competition in its current guise.

Head coach Xavi spoke of his anger over the Catalan giants' elimination from the Champions League, but does not feel they ought to be expected to lift the Europa League.

He told reporters on Wednesday: "I wouldn't say we are favourites. We're going for the two titles, but we're up against a difficult opponent.

"Sevilla have much more experience than us in this competition. I see us as candidates, not favourites, but in the tie."

Napoli are third in Serie A after holding champions Inter to a 1-1 draw on Saturday.

Xavi knows Barca face a big challenge as they attempt to advance at the expense of Luciano Spalletti's side.

"We could perfectly see this tie in the Champions League. They are a very good team," he said.

'A compact team'

"Napoli are a really compact team with a very experienced coach. They work well in moving the ball and pressing high up the pitch.

"They're going to make it difficult for us, they want the ball. They also defend well in low blocks and have top-class players."

Xavi has found it painful to see Champions League matches knowing Barca are out of the competition, but considers the Europa League as a chance to add a new trophy to the club's haul.

He added: "It's one more motivation to win a title that we don't have. It makes me very angry to listen to the music of the Champions League and not be there."

The Barca boss revealed he could give Sergio Busquets a rest and hinted he may be ready to unleash Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from the start.

He said of the Gabon striker: "Now he is 100 per cent and we will see him play safely. He is a player capable of playing space, going down to receive and unload.

"I am very happy with him. He is very professional and very positive within the group."

Xavi: Barca are not Europa League favourites