Gerard Pique says Barcelona’s emphatic 4-2 Europa League win over Napoli on Thursday, which saw them book their place in the round of 16, sent a message that the Catalan club are on their way back to the top.
Barca have struggled in Europe in recent years, winning just two of their last 11 knockout games away from Camp Nou. This season, they failed to make it out of their Champions League group, scoring just twice in six games as they dropped into the Europa League.
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However, Pique, who was on target at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium, is optimistic that Barca’s presence in Europe’s second-tier competition will only be fleeting.
« We have not been competing in Europe at the level a club like Barca should be, » he told reporters. « [But now] we have gone back to our origins, something we maybe had stopped doing recently. It’s a message for everyone, for us and for people on the outside, that little by little we’re on our way back. We’re on the right path. »
Pique, who added that « everyone must take their share of the blame » for Barca’s slump, says a combination of factors have helped the team turn a corner since September’s 3-0 defeat at home to Bayern Munich.
« A lot has changed since then, » he explained. « I would say we now have the fundamentals in place. There is a base from which the team feels confident and comfortable.
« We also strengthened well in January, adding firepower in attack. We know we can score and compete now. There’s been a change on the bench as well with [Xavi coming in]. There have been a lot of changes and that’s reflected in the team. »
Jordi Alba and Frenkie de Jong goals helped Barca into a 2-0 lead inside 13 minutes in Napoli before Lorenzo Insigne pulled one back from the penalty spot for the Serie A side.
Pique restored Barca’s two-goal advantage before the break and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s fourth goal since joining from Arsenal made it 4-1. Matteo Politano added a late consolation for Napoli as Barca progressed 5-3 on aggregate following a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou last week.
« It was our most complete performance this season, » coach Xavi Hernandez said in a news conference, although he was keen to add that Barca « have won nothing yet. »
He continued: « We looked to dominate the game and we managed that. We knew how to find the free man, we pressed high, we pressed well after losing the ball… we dominated, as we did at home as well. result is fair. This is the path to follow, we’re on the right track. »
Xavi reserved praise for midfielder De Jong, who has been in good form in recent weeks.
« I think he played brilliantly, » he said of the Dutch international. « He’s very professional but also very self-critical. He now understands what we want from him, how to create superiority and divide up the play.
« On top of that, he’s a player that gets into the box, scores goals, can find the free man. He didn’t understand [what we want] but now he’s getting it and he can be a very important player for many years. »
The draw for the round of 16 of the Europa League takes place on Friday, with Barca back in action on Sunday as they continue their pursuit of a top-four spot in LaLiga with a home game against Athletic Bilbao.