Xavi has claimed Barcelona are candidates to triumph in the Europa League, but did not go as far as to call his side favourites.

Barca ran out 4-2 winners in their final Champions League game – a dead rubber against Viktoria Plzen.

Though they managed only two wins in their Champions League campaign, Barca will be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, sides in Europe's second-tier club competition.

While Xavi expects his side to be competitive, he did not claim they are outright frontrunners to succeed.

"I would say that we are candidates to win the Europa League," he said, sidestepping a direct answer when asked if Barca were favourites.

"There is a very nice Europa League left to play for, and at Barca, we are a candidate who can fight for it and achieve success."

To qualify for the last 16, Barca will need to head through a play-off round against second-place sides from the Europa League group stage.

They successfully defeated Napoli in the same bracket last season following another early Champions League exit, ultimately losing to eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarter-finals.

On another curtailed run at Europe's biggest prize, Xavi added: "The feedback is negative. This stage had its moments, and we didn't take our chances.

"Bayern Munich and Inter did. We couldn't win in Munich or Milan. This is the balance in the end."

Franck Kessie was forced off with a hamstring injury in the second half against Plzen and Xavi admitted the Ivory Coast international does not look to be in good shape.

"He is bad," he acknowledged. "He has hurt his hamstring. He has had the bad luck of an injury."

Andres Iniesta says the booing of Barcelona players Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique by their own fans is "not pleasant".

The pair were jeered by Barca supporters at Camp Nou when being substituted onto the pitch in last month's win over Villarreal, with their refusal to take pay cuts thought to be the reason for the negative reception.

Barca head coach Xavi spoke out against the booing after the game, and Iniesta has joined his former midfield partner in being displeased with the fans' behaviour.

"It is something that no one likes and does not like, regardless of whether they are colleagues or friends," Iniesta, who ended his 20-year association with Barcelona when joining Japanese side Vissel Kobe in 2018, told AS.

"That your fans whistle you is not pleasant but we know that Barca is a very demanding and particular club. These are situations that have occurred throughout history with great players and people express what they feel at that moment.

"Both Busi [Busquets] and Geri [Pique] are at Barca because they still have the ability to perform, that's how it is. We would all like this not to happen, even those who whistle, because if they do it is because of the club's level of demand."

Barca are second in LaLiga, just a point behind rivals Real Madrid, but another early exit from the Champions League means their wait for a first European title since 2014-15 goes on.

Iniesta believes there is something missing from Xavi's side, adding: "I want Barca, and the people I know and appreciate, to do well.

"Since Xavi came in, the evolution has been very positive and the current squad is super complete in all lines, but there are things that happen and the Champions League is decided by details.

"It is clear that some things are not being done well or not enough to change that dynamic. We haven't been able to handle those details that I'm talking about and that decide play-offs and matches."

Barcelona head coach Xavi attempted to put the club's embarrassing Champions League elimination into perspective as he insisted the team is on the "right track".

The Blaugrana will play no part in the Champions League knockout stages for the second season running after accumulating just four points from five games.

Prior to last season, Barca had reached at least the last 16 of the Champions League in 19 successive campaigns.

Their fate was sealed last Wednesday when Inter beat Viktoria Plzen to secure their passage alongside Group C winners Bayern Munich, who crushed Barca 3-0 at Camp Nou later that day.

While it was undoubtedly a major blow considering Barca's significant squad investment in the face of financial issues during the transfer window, Xavi feels he is able to offer perspective given he has seen the club at its worst and its best.

"Unfortunately and luckily, I have lived through the worst period in the club's history, from 2000 to 2003, and the best, from when [Frank] Rijkaard arrived until I retired," he said.

"We have to insist, now is not the time to doubt. We are in a situation that we did not expect, eliminated from the Champions League, but we have to believe in the idea, draw a line and have faith.

"I am very positive. I continue to think that we are on the right track. The titles will be won in 2023 [not now].

"It did not help to be put in a very difficult Champions group, but this year we have taken a step. In Munich the team played very well.

"We had the opportunity in our hands, but it escaped us due to football mistakes, adverse situations and refereeing decisions.

"We had the chance, but we did not score points in Munich after the good game we played, and then only managed a draw against Inter when we had it under control. They were things that depended on us.

"We had the misfortune of being drawn into a very strong group and not being up to the task. This is the reality."

Tuesday's trip to Viktoria Plzen has very little riding on it, with Barca already assured of their spot in the Europa League.

As such, Xavi is expected to rotate his squad and he confirmed Robert Lewandowski is being rested due to a slight back problem.

But as for those who can feature, Xavi is urging them not to be complacent just because the result is essentially irrelevant, as he looks to maintain their momentum in LaLiga ahead of the World Cup.

Asked what Barca have to play for on Tuesday, Xavi said: "Winning, playing well, offering good feelings.

"For prestige and professionalism, we have to go all out and finish this competition well. It's very important to go into the last two league games before the World Cup with a good feeling."

Xavi believes Barcelona "played with anxiety" at Valencia but "never stopped believing" as Robert Lewandowski struck an injury-time winner at Mestalla.

A tight contest looked to be petering out to a goalless draw when Lewandowski got on the end of a Raphinha cross into the box to divert in a vital goal to bring a smile to Barca after an unhappy few days.

After being eliminated from the Champions League group stage for the second season running prior to losing 3-0 at home to Bayern Munich on Wednesday, the Blaugrana were searching for a morale-boosting win in Valencia.

Speaking after the game, head coach Xavi outlined how much the last week impacted his side's performance, saying: "It was a very important victory. Almost in the last second. We never stopped believing.

"We played with anxiety, the Champions League affected us. Wednesday weighed on us. We suffered. After three quarters [of the game] it became difficult. The decision-making was bad, the result of anxiety.

"We were better than Valencia and we deserved the victory. It wasn't an excellent game, we weren't inspired, but it's vital [the win]."

 

The 93rd-minute goal from Lewandowski was his 13th of the season, putting him six ahead of his nearest challengers – Real Betis' Borja Iglesias and Espanyol's Joselu (both on seven goals) – in the race for the Pichichi.

"The goal is of quality," Xavi said. "Robert is here to make a difference. I thought it might have been offside, because of the dynamics we had.

"But we have to improve. We have to make better decisions. It could have been a tie and it would be a drama, and it shouldn't be like that. We've improved a lot, we're on the way."

The win puts Barca top of LaLiga ahead of Real Madrid's game at home to Girona on Sunday, but Xavi still believes it is important to put pressure on their great rivals in the race for the title.

"It's very important for the team, we deserved it," he added. "We made an effort, we worked hard and the reward is important. We sleep as leaders, and we want to put pressure on Real Madrid."

Xavi has called on Barcelona to "turn the page" after their Champions League disappointment as he still believes they can deliver a "great season".

The Blaugrana were eliminated from Europe's elite club competition in midweek, with Inter's victory over Viktoria Plzen sealing their fate even before a 3-0 home defeat to Bayern Munich.

Barca paid the price for taking only a point from their double-header against Inter, who followed Bayern into the last 16.

The Catalan giants had invested heavily in the transfer market – despite their financial difficulties – to try to ensure there would be no repeat of last season's group-stage exit, but Xavi's side still fell short.

However, sitting second in LaLiga and only three points behind leaders, champions and rivals Real Madrid, the Barca coach is ready to retrain his focus on a successful domestic campaign.

"In the Champions League, we have made our assessments, [about] what we have lacked but also that we had it in our hands," Xavi said before Saturday's game against Valencia.

"Now it's time to turn the page. Tomorrow is one of those moments in the season to react."

He added: "I'm still positive. It's been a blow, but we can have a great season. There are many titles left.

"In LaLiga, we are in a good dynamic against strong rivals. It is another test to show a reaction and pride."

With Barca already certain to fall into the Europa League before the Bayern match, Xavi suggested "the psychological part weighed a lot".

Failure in Europe will surely increase pressure on the coach's position, but he confirmed he had spoken to president Joan Laporta to analyse what had gone wrong.

"With the president, we talk continuously, practically for every game," Xavi said. "We see each other after the games. The diagnosis is clear: there are things that have not depended on us, and we must improve those things that do depend on us."

He added: "I think in Munich we saw a good Barca, this one also against Villarreal, Athletic, Real Sociedad, Sevilla; I think you are seeing things.

"I want to believe that we are on the way. I've experienced it as a footballer: we can't get off track. And if we don't arrive [at the best level], another coach will come."

Xavi has been backed to enjoy a "remarkable" coaching career by former team-mate Andres Iniesta, despite Barcelona's Champions League exit on Wednesday.

Barca trail Real Madrid by just three points at the top of LaLiga after winning nine of their first 11 games this season, but have received heavy criticism following another European failure.

Inter's 4-0 win over Viktoria Plzen put Barca out of contention for a top-two finish in Group C on Wednesday, and the Blaugrana failed to salvage any pride in a subsequent 3-0 home defeat to Bayern Munich – their sixth consecutive Champions League loss to the Bavarians.

Iniesta, however, believes Xavi will recover from that setback, telling Corriere dello Sport it brings him "so much joy" to see his former midfield partner in the Camp Nou dugout.

"He is a friend and he will have a remarkable career," Iniesta said. "He is prepared, he has studied and had Barcelona as his guide."

Iniesta now captains Japanese side Vissel Kobe, and while the 38-year-old acknowledges his own career is drawing to a close, he is unsure whether he will follow Xavi into coaching.

"I know that when I have to quit, it won't be a great day," he added. "I will think back to when my dad used to take me to play, I will regret many things. 

"Then I will also think about the future, I don't know yet if I will be a coach or a sporting director. I still don't have clear ideas."

Iniesta and Xavi formed one of the most iconic midfield partnerships in football history, contributing to four Champions League triumphs between 2005-06 and 2014-15 during a golden age for Barca.

Young midfielders Pedri and Gavi have earned comparisons to that duo after emerging as key players in Xavi's side, and Iniesta hopes they can replicate their achievements. 

"They said to me that I resembled [Pep] Guardiola, then there was Xavi," Iniesta said. "Now it is up to Pedri and Gavi. Football works in cycles."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta concedes his side's premature Champions League exit is a shame but was philosophical about their "young project" under Xavi.

The Blaugrana were officially eliminated and consigned to the Europa League following Inter's 4-0 win over Viktoria Plzen earlier on Wednesday, before producing a limp home display in a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich.

Barcelona have been condemned to a group-stage exit for the second straight season, while that comes almost 12 months since Xavi's appointment to replace Ronald Koeman.

The five-time Champions League winners spent significantly in Xavi's first off-season at the helm, bringing in Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen, Hector Bellerin, Franck Kessie, Marcos Alonso and Raphinha.

Barca's failure to reach the Champions League knockout stages will have a financial impact on the club, but Laporta was philosophical.

"It's a shame, but you can't blame the players or the coach for anything," Laporta told Barca TV. "We have to look forward, because we have LaLiga and other competitions left.

"This is a young project in which from the beginning we knew we were going to have ups and downs. The league remains and we have to show that we continue."

The Blaugrana are second in LaLiga after a strong start to the campaign with 28 points from 11 games, three points behind Real Madrid, whose El Clasico victory earlier this month put them top.

"LaLiga is very important and we have it close," Laporta said. "The message is to look forward. This has already happened."

Barca's 3-0 home loss to the German champions marked the sixth straight defeat against Bayern, including the 8-2 Champions League quarter-final rout in 2020.

"Bayern is a consolidated and powerful team, one of the best in Europe and they did not play anything, they left relaxed," Laporta added.

"For us it was very complicated and the [Inter] game against Plzen was torture, but we still have faith."

Barca midfielder Pedri was more forthright in his assessment of the side's elimination.

"For me it's a failure," he told Movistar. "We don't deserve to be in the Champions League, we've shown it in games. But we have many competitions to face and give joy to the fans who have been with us at all times."

This was the first time Barca have been eliminated from the Champions League group stage in back-to-back seasons since the 1997-98 and 1998-99 campaigns under Louis van Gaal.

Madrid will be Spain's only team in the last 16 with Sevilla, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid all out with a game to spare. The last season Spain only had one team in the knockout rounds was 1998-99, also Los Blancos.

Xavi believes Barcelona being eliminated from the Champions League prior to kick-off led to their insipid showing in a 3-0 home defeat to Bayern Munich.

Inter's 4-0 win against Viktoria Plzen earlier on Wednesday meant Barca were unable to progress from Group C, leading to a second season of dropping into the Europa League following the group stage.

A slow start from the Blaugrana saw them fall 2-0 down after 31 minutes, with Sadio Mane and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting scoring, before Benjamin Pavard tapped in a third in second-half stoppage time.

Speaking after the loss, the Barca coach acknowledged his side were outclassed, saying: "Today we didn't compete, we didn't reach their level. [Bayern] were very good, much better, more intense.

"I'm sure that the elimination before the game affected us psychologically. I'm sure it did."

This was the first time Barca have been eliminated from the Champions League group stage in back-to-back seasons since the 1997-98 and 1998-99 campaigns under Louis Van Gaal.

Xavi bemoaned being drawn into a tough group, and seemed to suggest that he and the club will not necessarily view their elimination as "failure".

"We were drawn in a really difficult group and everything has happened to us in the Champions League," he added. "It was very cruel, but today we didn't compete. On other days we did, but not today.

"I understand that from the outside people talk about failure, but from the inside we have a different analysis.

"It's a cruel way to go out of the competition, but if we analyse the other games, I think we deserved more."

Bayern Munich eased to a 3-0 win to compound a miserable day for Barcelona as they were eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage for a second successive season.

Inter's 4-0 win against Viktoria Plzen earlier on Wednesday had already sealed Barca's fate, which led to a sombre mood from the first whistle at Camp Nou.

First-half goals from Sadio Mane and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting were followed by a Benjamin Pavard strike with the last kick of the game.

Bayern were already through from Group C but confirmed themselves as group winners ahead of Inter with this win, with Barca dropping into the Europa League.

2 - #FCBarcelona has been eliminated of UEFA Champions League #UCL group stage in back-to-back seasons, something that had not happened since the 1997-98 and 1998-99 campaings under Louis Van Gaal. Disappointment. pic.twitter.com/GkcqNp2Ncq

— OptaJose (@OptaJose) October 26, 2022

It took just 10 minutes for Bayern to strike after Serge Gnabry played a ball through to Mane, who outpaced Hector Bellerin before calmly dinking the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

The second also came thanks to an assured pass from Gnabry as Bayern countered and Choupo-Moting was slipped in on the right of the penalty area, firing his shot through the legs of Ter Stegen just after the half-hour mark.

The hosts thought they had a penalty just before half-time when referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot after Robert Lewandowski was felled by Matthijs de Ligt, but a VAR check revealed the Dutch centre-back got a touch on the ball before any contact was made with the former Bayern man.

Gnabry had the ball in the net with a terrific left-foot finish to Ter Stegen's right 10 minutes into the second half, yet his effort was ruled out for offside.

A game that had the feeling of a dead rubber fizzled out, with Lewandowski and Co. never looking like getting back into the game before Gnabry had his third assist of the night as his volley from a corner found Pavard at the far post for a tap-in.

Xavi is refusing to give up hope of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League, even if he accepts his side face an almighty challenge to advance to the last 16.

Barca face being eliminated from the competition in the group stage in successive seasons heading into Wednesday's home tie with Bayern Munich.

Xavi's side will be unable to progress should they lose or if Inter beat bottom side Viktoria Plzen, while they will also be eliminated should both games be drawn.

The Catalan giants will be aware of their fate ahead of kick-off at Camp Nou as Inter host Plzen earlier in the day, but Xavi insists that result will not impact his team selection.

"We will all watch the game together in the locker room," Xavi said at Tuesday's pre-match news conference. "Regardless of what happens, we want to show we can compete.

"I already decided on the line-up on Monday, except for any injuries that occur. This is all regardless of what happens in the Inter game."

Barca's dramatic 3-3 draw with Inter two weeks ago effectively leaves them needing wins over Bayern and Plzen, while requiring favours elsewhere.

They have lost nine of their 12 Champions League games against next opponents Bayern, who are already through to the last 16, including the past five in a row.

Indeed, only Bayern themselves against Real Madrid (10) have lost more games against a single opponent in the history of the Champions League.

"It's not so much that we require a miracle, because we have a slight bit of hope," Xavi said. "We know it doesn't all depend on us, making it an uncomfortable situation.

"But we know that regardless of what happens in Milan, we face an important match. We have to beat Bayern to show we can compete at this level.

"While there is a little hope we must not lose it. We have done our homework. This competition is being cruel to us, but it's the reality we face."

Jose Mourinho last week labelled clubs that drop into the Europa League in the next round as a result of finishing third in their Champions League group as "failed sharks".

However, when asked for his response to Roma head coach Mourinho's remarks, Xavi said: "There's nothing to answer. If we have to play in that competition, we will compete.

"The [Europa League] is not something we're thinking about yet but if we do compete in that competition we'll go out and fight like lions to win it."

Barcelona have lost their past two home games against German opponents in Europe – against Bayern and Eintracht Frankfurt – but have never previously lost three in a row.

As is always the case when Barcelona fall short in the Champions League, the local media reaction was unforgiving.

"On the brink of disaster," screamed the Diario AS front page. Barcelona were hurtling towards "the abyss", according to L'Esportiu. 

Robert Lewandowski's 92nd-minute equaliser may have rescued a point in a 3-3 draw with Inter last time out in the competition, but it was not enough. 

Having suffered a 1-0 defeat at San Siro one week earlier, the result left the Blaugrana staring at an early Champions League exit.

Xavi acknowledged Barca did not deserve to progress following their madcap draw with the Nerazzurri, but that will be no consolation to their hierarchy should they bow out of the competition on Wednesday.

As Barca – just a few weeks on from a huge transfer spree and a positive start in LaLiga – prepare to host Bayern Munich in a do-or-die clash, Stats Perform examines the potential ramifications of yet another European failure.

Tracing Barca's Champions League woes as old foes visit 

Football has a funny way of throwing up narratives. Surely no team has been responsible for causing Barca greater embarrassment than Bayern, who have won nine of their 12 Champions League meetings with the Catalan giants (D1 L2).

Among those victories, of course, was an 8-2 humiliation of Quique Setien's team in the 2019-20 quarter-finals, an historic result that hastened Lionel Messi's attempts to quit Camp Nou that year.

Bayern also appeared to take great joy in crushing Barca last season, preventing Xavi's men from reaching the last 16 for the first time since 2003-04 (when they were absent from the competition entirely) by thrashing them 3-0 in a match with no consequences for the Bavarians.

The German side are already assured of their own last-16 spot again ahead of Wednesday's match, but they will no doubt be keen to deal another blow to their old rivals – particularly after the less-than-amicable departure of Lewandowski in July. 

While Bayern's domestic dominance makes their obsession with Champions League success understandable, Barca have suffered extensively after failing to meet lofty European aims of late.

Barca are looking to avoid suffering consecutive group-stage eliminations for just the second time in the competition, having previously crashed out at this stage in both 1997-98 and 1998-99, but their Champions League woes stretch back beyond last season.

Since lifting the trophy in 2015, Barca have posted four quarter-final exits and one last-16 elimination, as well as an incredible collapse against Liverpool in their one semi-final appearance.

Meanwhile, Barca have been beaten by three or more goals on 10 separate occasions in their past seven Champions League campaigns, having not lost by such a margin in their previous three seasons in the competition.

For a club who are in a state of perpetual crisis despite a run of five league titles in seven seasons between 2012-13 and 2018-19, the Champions League clearly holds special importance, which has only been heightened by recent off-pitch events.

The view from the boardroom: Why qualification matters for Laporta 

The economic 'levers' pulled by Joan Laporta were the talk of the continent a couple of months ago, with Barca spending in excess of €150million on Lewandowski, Jules Kounde and Raphinha, as well as attracting four high-profile free agents.

That spree was set against a backdrop of continued economic fears, with Barca accused of gambling their future to finance a short-term rebuild.

The sales of 10 per cent of their future LaLiga broadcasting rights and 49 per cent of their in-house production company Barca Studios were required in order for the Blaugrana to meet the division's salary limits – and even that was not enough to prevent director of football Mateu Alemany having to contribute his own money to ensure Kounde's registration.

The identity of their marquee addition Lewandowski, meanwhile, raises further questions. 

The Poland international may remain his indomitable self, following up a return of 35 goals in his final Bundesliga season with Bayern by scoring 12 in his first 11 outings in LaLiga, but handing a four-year contract to a player who turned 34 in August gave an idea of where Barca's priorities lie.

It is within this context that Laporta's view of the Blaugrana's European failings must be examined.

Reports have suggested Laporta was "furious" with Barca's inability to beat Inter, and the president's frustrations were on display when he stormed into the officials' changing room following their Clasico defeat to Real Madrid four days later, earning himself a fine.

It is thought Barca have budgeted for a run to the Champions League's last eight as a minimum this season, and failing to meet that objective would reportedly cost them €20m.

With Barca and Madrid seemingly fighting a losing battle in their attempts to convince Europe's other giants to back a revival of the Super League, the loss of further revenue is unlikely to go down well in the Camp Nou boardroom.

Could Xavi pay for Laporta's approach?

While Xavi's predecessor Ronald Koeman lost his job with Barca ninth in LaLiga, overseeing the club's worst ever start to a Champions League campaign hardly helped his cause, with a 3-0 loss at Benfica last September representing a watershed moment for the Dutchman.

Xavi has goodwill in the bank after leading Barca to second in LaLiga last term, but the former midfielder recently acknowledged a European exit would deal a blow to his own job prospects.

Indeed, resounding league wins over Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao have done little to lift the mood at Camp Nou, demonstrating a shift in expectations Xavi must handle.

Signing Lewandowski, who has 91 Champions League goals to his name, has also ensured Xavi has few excuses, at odds with Koeman's patched-up, Messi-less side.

Whether fair or not, Xavi is now perceived to have the players to compete with sides like Bayern; failure to do so would undoubtedly prompt questions of both the coach and the board.

Xavi may have restored Barca's status as domestic title contenders, but as ever in Catalonia, past European glories cast a long shadow.

If Xavi oversees another continental failure, he may just pay for Laporta's approach.

Xavi credited Ousmane Dembele's willingness to take risks after the France winger starred in Barcelona's 4-0 thrashing of Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou. 

Barca moved back to within three points of Real Madrid on the LaLiga table by putting Athletic to the sword on Sunday, with Dembele opening the scoring before recording three assists.

By laying on goals for Robert Lewandowski, Sergi Roberto and Ferran Torres, Dembele recorded four goal involvements in a single game for Barca for the first time, in what was his 165th Blaugrana appearance.

Dembele's tally of five assists in LaLiga is the best in the competition this season, and Xavi described the 25-year-old as a difference-maker following Barca's victory.

"He was in the spotlight because he takes risks and it's like a flip of a coin. He was especially motivated," Xavi told Movistar.

"He understood everything well. He's here to make a difference and he's capable of doing these things."

Barca raced into a three-goal lead within 22 minutes as Athletic collapsed, before controlling possession as Pedri repeatedly drifted inside from an unfamiliar left-wing role.

"We thought it was a game of intensity and rhythm, we understood that they were going to put a lot of pressure on us," Xavi said of Barca's approach.

"We put one more midfielder in and we attacked inside. We found the superiority and we matched their intensity, those were the keys. We showed solidarity and it was a complete game."

Barca endured a run of just one win in four matches earlier this month, losing to Clasico rivals Madrid and failing to beat Inter in two Champions League meetings, leading captain Sergio Busquets to emphasise the importance of their response.

"We came from a difficult week after losing against Madrid, but we have remade ourselves with two good games and we continue to fight for the top positions here," Busquets said.

"We came out very strong, because we knew that they are a very intense team and we wanted to match that intensity. 

"We had ten minutes of great success in front of goal and that made it easy for us to break up the match."

Ousmane Dembele scored and assisted three others as Barcelona warmed up for Wednesday's Champions League clash with Bayern Munich by thrashing Athletic Bilbao 4-0 at Camp Nou.

Xavi's team raced into a three-goal lead before half-time in Thursday's mauling of Villarreal and they repeated the trick on Sunday as Sergi Roberto and Robert Lewandowski joined Dembele on the scoresheet within 22 minutes.

Having set up Roberto and Lewandowski, Dembele continued to terrorise Athletic after the break and helped Barca add some gloss when he teed up Ferran Torres for a neat finish late on.

The result moved Barca back to within three points of leaders Real Madrid in the LaLiga standings, with Los Blancos having moved clear with a 3-1 win over Sevilla on Saturday. 

Dembele opened the scoring after 12 minutes, testing Unai Simon before nodding in Lewandowski's cross after the striker had recycled the loose ball.

There was more fortune about Barca's second, which arrived when Roberto's shot deflected beyond Simon from a tight angle following Dembele's throughball. 

Dembele played a role again in Barca's third as Athletic crumbled, driving inside from the right to feed Lewandowski, who swivelled and lashed into the roof of the net.

Barca suffered a blow when Gavi limped off following a collision with Dani Garcia before the break, but they almost scored a fourth when Garcia's clearance hit Pedri and crashed against the post.

Dembele showcased his creative qualities once again when Barca completed the rout after 73 minutes, drilling a low cross into Torres, who shifted the ball to his right foot before finishing coolly. 

Barcelona boss Xavi believes his side answered their critics with their emphatic 3-0 win over Villarreal in LaLiga, stating that they "had to react" after their mixed recent form.

The Blaugrana ran rampant in a seven-minute stretch just after the half-hour mark, as Robert Lewandowski seized a quickfire double and Ansu Fati added a third at Camp Nou.

Victory means Barca trail league leaders Real Madrid by three points after defeat in El Clasico over the weekend, but also snaps a two-game winless streak to get them back on top.

With just one win in their previous four before Thursday's win, Xavi acknowledged his side needed to answer their critics, and was delighted that they did so in such impressive fashion.

"We played a great game," he stated. "It was our turn [to win] - we had to reach. It wasn't easy, because a lot was expected of us after poor results.

"There are many expectations placed upon us this season. But we showed our true face, we showed character. It is a good feeling in general."

Barca rung the changes following their capitulation in El Clasico, with Fati leading one of five swaps to the starting XI, with Frenkie de Jong handed the nod in midfield and Raphinha and Ousmane Dembele dropped.

Xavi suggested his rotations were pre-planned rather than as a result of defeat to Madrid, adding: "On Sunday, there will be changes again.

"We have fatigue among our players. We need intensity and we need rhythm. Players must be plugged in, for the minutes they play."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has been fined €602 for storming into the referee's changing room after his team's 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in El Clasico on Sunday.

First-half goals from Karim Benzema and Federico Valverde left Barcelona facing a 2-0 deficit at the break, but a Ferran Torres strike with seven minutes to play gave the visitors hope.

That was soon extinguished though as a VAR review led to the award of a Madrid penalty after Eric Garcia tripped Rodrygo, who scored from the spot to secure three points for his side and condemn Xavi's men to defeat.

The result sparked a furious reaction from Laporta, who confronted referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez in the official's changing room after the match.

The Competition Committee fined him on Wednesday, citing article 133 of the disciplinary code, which relates to non-compliance with orders, as well as article 255, which stipulates those who access the changing rooms when they are not allowed to face potential sanctions.

Sunday's defeat saw Madrid leapfrog Barca to the top of LaLiga, another blow for Laporta's team after their Champions League hopes were left hanging by a thread following a 3-3 home draw against Inter last week.

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