Xavi: Barca at ‘best level’ since I became boss

Xavi Hernandez says Barcelona are playing their best football since he took over as manager after they thrashed Antwerp 5-0 in their Champions League opener on Tuesday.

João Félix scored twice, with Robert Lewandowski, Gavi and a Jelle Bataille own goal completing the scoring as Barça hit five for the second time in four days after registering the same scoreline against Real Betis on Saturday.

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“I am really happy with the result, but above all with how we played,” said Xavi, who replaced Ronald Koeman as Barça coach in November 2021 and led the club to the LaLiga title last season.

“The early stages tonight were even because we didn’t press high well, but from the 20th minute, I thought we controlled the game. We dominated possession, recovered balls high and attacked well positionally.

“Obviously the level of the team goes up when [Ilkay] Gündogan plays, [João] Cancelo knows what we want and Félix has started well. I think these last two games are the best level we have shown with me in charge. It’s the path to follow.”

The arrival of Félix and Cancelo has been the catalyst for Barça’s last two wins, with both new signings impressing in the victories against Betis and Antwerp.

Félix followed up his strike against Betis with a brace against Antwerp, while he also set up the second goal for Lewandowski, who converted for the 100th time in European competitions.

“He has bags of individual quality and an innate talent, but also the humility and the patience to work hard to understand where the space is and how to link play,” Xavi said of Félix, who is on loan from Atletico Madrid.

“I have told him to enjoy himself, have fun and that we play an attacking game that can get the best out of his qualities.

“There are players that have improved the group — it’s a wonder to watch Gündogan, whenever he has the ball, things improve — but in general it is how we are playing.

“It’s an honour to watch the team play at the moment but we have to remain consistent now. We have to maintain these performances, the hunger and the focus.”

Xavi insists the primary aim at the moment is to get out of the group after Barça failed to make the knockout rounds in the Champions League in each of the last two seasons.

“If we keep this up, we can compete in the Champions League, but it’s very soon [to say anything else],” Xavi said.

“The objective is to make the next round and if that’s as group winners, even better. There are big games to come and will have to step up in them when they arrive.”

Antwerp coach Mark van Bommel was happy with his side’s performance despite the score.

“I didn’t imagine losing 5-0,” he said in his post-game news conference. “In the first 10 minutes we played very well with the ball and with a lot of courage.

“We were focused, we felt we were playing well, but you can’t drop your guard at any moment. The minimum error, they take advantage: three shots, three goals… but we kept fighting. I am not disappointed because we gave everything, so I am proud of the team.”

Barça travel to Porto in their next game on Oct. 4. The Portuguese side beat Shakhtar Donetsk 3-1 in the other game in Group H on Tuesday.

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