PETE JENSON: Barcelona’s clash with Inter Milan tonight is FAR bigger than Sunday’s Clasico… Xavi’s cash-strapped giants have budgeted for Champions League quarter-finals MINIMUM – they simply can’t afford another group stage disaster
- Barcelona need a big result against Inter Milan in the Champions League
- Another defeat to the Serie A side will leave them six points off qualification
- The Catalan giants have budgeted for a run to the quarter-finals stage
- Exit at the group stage would be a disaster financially for the LaLiga club
Barcelona play for their Champions League future and for the survival of next summer’s transfer budget tonight against Inter Milan, and they do so relying heavily on players they are actively trying to get rid of, and fearing a UEFA conspiracy against them or even a last group-match Bayern Munich stitch-up.
The urgency of the situation is best illustrated by the fact that their Champions League season will be over tonight if they lose and Bayern pick up a point in their game against Viktoria Plzen. That scenario would mean nothing that Xavi’s side do in their final two games would remedy the situation. They would be out.
No one is contemplating such a season-stunting defeat – many Barcelona fans believe they will not just beat Inter – who have lost all five previous visits to the Camp Nou – but that they will also see off Bayern in two weeks in the same stadium and top the group.
Barcelona are in desperate need of a victory against Inter Milan in the Champions League
Inter Milan are second in the group behind Bayern Munich thanks to their victory against Barcelona at the San Siro, on Matchday Three of the Champions League last week
Wednesday’s game with Inter is more important than Sunday’s El Clasico with Real Madrid
They might need to beat Bayern as well because anything less than three points against the Germans would leave them fearing an Inter victory at the Allianz Arena in the two teams’ last group game.
One Diario Sport columnist on Monday suggested some Barca players even feared Bayern would deliberately lose to ensure that Inter went through at Barca’s expense, as payback for the fact that they took Lewandowski from them in the summer.
It’s debatable whether there is enough bad blood between the two clubs to forsake UEFA prize money for winning the group game – it certainly wasn’t on show when Lewandowski’s name was cheered by Bayern supporters in the first game between them, and in the way he was embraced by every Bayern player before kick-off. It’s also a big accusation against a club with a reputation for winning ruthlessly and relentlessly.
But it wouldn’t even need a Bayern no-show in the last match. The Germans will be through by the last game and perfectly entitled to play a second string ahead of important Bundesliga matches – that would certainly favour Inter.
Barcelona spent £132million on rebuilding the team in the summer and they budgeted a run to the quarter-final stage of the Champions League at the very minimum this season
Xavi is calling each of the remaining games ‘finals’ and if Barca are to win them all they will need that man Lewandowski to find his form, or, more’s to the point Barcelona to find him on the pitch – the Polish forward has been starved of service in the last two games in which he has failed to score.
Barca will also need some big displays from club legends they are trying to get rid of. The campaign to persuade Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba to leave the club at the end of this season has to be put on hold because both, Pique in particular, are needed as much as ever.
Barcelona cannot afford to keep paying Alba and Pique up until the end of their contracts in June 2024, because the sum of wages – both backdated and due over this season and next – amounts to around £63million gross.
That is why the club bought Marcos Alonso and Andreas Christensen in the summer to help ensure they didn’t need to pick either Pique or Alba, so forcing them out at the end of this season.
Barcelona will need big efforts from club legends like Gerard Pique (right) and Jordi Alba (not pictured) – despite the Catalan giants trying to sell the pair to fund new signings
It has not worked. Injuries have meant that both have been needed of late and have proved their worth. Pique was Barca’s best defender at the weekend against Celta Vigo, and Alba was the player who created more chances.
Barca also need to empty their heads of the conspiracy theories that have clouded thoughts since the first game against Inter last week – a belief that UEFA are against them because of their breakaway Super League plans.
All eyes will be on Polish referee Szymon Marciniak during the game after Barcelona felt they were robbed in that defeat in the San Siro.
A clear handball against Denzel Dumfries was not checked and the conspiracy theorists were out in force suggesting Barca’s ongoing allegiance to the Super League has left Europe’s governing body keen to see the Catalans out of the competition at the earliest point possible.
Any more VAR controversy tonight will set off the claims once more, as will a cheap yellow for Sergio Busquets, who will miss the next group game against Bayern if he is cautioned.
Barcelona could be out of the competition if Inter win tonight and Bayern Munich get a point
Inter have not taken kindly to Barcelona’s very vocal campaign against the refereeing of the first game. Joan Laporta told the club’s supporters at the weekend: ‘It was shameful refereeing and we let UEFA know about it.’ Inter feel that this pressure is designed to get a more favourable performance from Marciniak tonight.
The financial consequences of this match are well-documented. Barcelona spent over £132m on rebuilding the team in the summer but to pay for the spending they have budgeted this season for a minimum quarter-finals place in the Champions League.
They will earn around £8.4m if they reach the last-16 and a further £9.3m if they get to the quarter-finals. From there they can try to reach the semi-finals and earn the club a further £11m, and then reach the final, earning either a further £13.6m or £17.5m depending on whether they lose or win it.
Not making it out of the group is not an option because even winning the Europa League (and earning around 15m euros for doing so) would not fill the financial black hole.
Moves for potential free agents Jorginho and N’Golo Kante is part of their plans next summer
Barcelona would also love to bring Lionel Messi back to the Nou Camp at the end of the season
Plans for next summer are already focusing on signing free-transfers. Chelsea pair Jorginho and N’Golo Kante are both out of contract on June 30 and are being seen as options to replace Busquets.
Lionel Messi is also a player who will not command a transfer fee and has huge appeal for sentimental as well as football reasons. Leicester’s Youri Tielemans is also being monitored.
But there is no such thing as a free transfer and such targets would still require the club to invest in signing-on fees and wages. That will be even more difficult to do if they overshoot the financial runway this season.
Asked which game carries the most importance – Real Madrid on Sunday or Inter tonight, one commentator in Barcelona said this week: ‘Inter, because a defeat to Madrid can be fixed’.
That just about sums things up for Xavi – the European season will be beyond repair if the team slip-up. Only a win will do.
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