Barcelona will aim to move one step closer to Europa League glory when they welcome Galatasaray to Camp Nou for the first leg of their last-16 battle on Thursday evening.
The Catalan giants defeated Napoli 5-3 on aggregate to make it this far, while their visitors qualified first from the group stage in Europe’s secondary competition.
There was a time not that long ago when Barcelona and Galatasaray would both be in the hat for the knockout stages of the Champions League, but Xavi is now navigating the unfamiliar territory of the Europa League, which the club took to quite quickly in the playoff round.
After being held to a 1-1 draw by Napoli at home in the first leg of their playoff tie, La Blaugrana dusted off their best shooting boots to claim a 4-2 win in Naples and advance to the last-16, and things may finally be starting to look up for the Catalan club.
Ferran Torres and Memphis Depay both came off the bench to steer Barcelona to a 2-1 win against Elche in the weekend’s La Liga fixture, which represented the Blaugrana’s fourth win on the bounce in all competitions as Xavi weaves his magic.
There is the small matter of El Clasico with Real Madrid and a meeting with high-flying Sevilla to come for Barcelona in the next few weeks, but having racked up 14 goals in their four-game winning streak, they are certainly hitting form at a crucial moment in the season.
Barca’s unbeaten streak in all competitions now stands at eight matches since defeat to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey back in January, and having also suffered just two defeats in their last 35 European knockout games at Camp Nou, Galatasaray could be in for a rough ride.
Galatasaray’s Taylan Antalyali celebrates their second goal with teammates on November 25, 2021© Reuters
Still unbeaten in the 2021-22 Europa League, Galatasaray’s group with Marseille, Lazio and Lokomotiv Moscow was hardly a cakewalk, but the Turkish giants amassed 12 points from a possible 18 to qualify for the last-16 stage as group winners.
This week’s visitors to Camp Nou could not keep the momentum going domestically, though, as they embarked on an alarming five-game losing streak across league and cup competition before seemingly turning a corner with the appointment of Domenec Torrent to replace Fatih Terim.
However, after navigating their four Super Lig fixtures in February without defeat, Galatasaray warmed up for the first leg with a 2-0 defeat away to Konyaspor, with their miserable streak over the winter months seeing them plummet down the rankings into the bottom half.
Galatasaray ought to be encouraged by their 10-game unbeaten streak in this season’s Europa League since entering in the qualifiers, but it is now 10 matches in all competitions without a clean sheet for Torrent’s side, who do not have fond memories of previous meetings with Barcelona.
Indeed, Barcelona have come up trumps in the last three meetings between the sides – the most recent one being a 3-1 Champions League group-stage win in 2002 – and Galatasaray’s solitary triumph in this fixture came all the way back in 1994.