The fact that Barcelona was paired with Manchester United in the Europa League’s knockout phase play-offs, according to Xavi, was the toughest draw imaginable.
Barca’s inability to move from a Champions League group that included Bayern Munich and Inter will force them to play in the Europa League after the new year.
For the first time ever, the Blaugrana were eliminated from the Champions League in consecutive group stages. This also happened under Louis van Gaal during the 1997–98 and 1998–99 seasons.
“We will have to compete, going to Manchester against a really tough rival,” Xavi said ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Osasuna in LaLiga.
“It’s a historic rival that has grown a lot with the arrival of Erik ten Hag, with great individual players. We have been given the most difficult rival, yet again, in the Europa League.
“There is always a rival who also has the obligation to win, like ourselves. To compete, we have to analyse Manchester. We will try, this club has never won the Europa League.
“It’s a massive challenge for us, our players will probably be more motivated against a strong team.”
Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 20 goals in 34 appearances against the Blaugrana, will face Barca in their upcoming European match. Ronaldo has scored against the Blaugrana in LaLiga (nine), the Champions League (two), the Copa del Rey (five), and the Supercopa de Espana (four).
Xavi denied rumors that the United striker is deteriorating despite his difficulties this year, adding:
“He seems to me to be a great player who has marked an era, and he can still make a difference.
“I like to win, I hate to lose, whoever is in front of me. I want to win and be competitive.”
Barcelona stats against Manchester United
Only one of the teams’ previous eight encounters in European competitions was a winner for Barcelona, but they have won their past four games versus United, including the Champions League finals in 2009 and 2011. (D4 L3).