UEFA Champions League 2023-24: Barcelona Slip In Belgium, Hand Royal Antwerp Their First Points In The Competition

Xavi Barcelona Coach Disappointed
Xavi Barcelona Coach Disappointed

Spanish powerhouse Barcelona traveled to the Bosuilstadion for their 2023-24 UEFA Champions League Matchday 6 clash with Royal Antwerp on Wednesday night (December 13). On paper, it looked like a straightforward victory for the Group H leaders, who had already secured passage into the Round Of 16. The bottom-placed hosts, however, refused to follow the script and mounted a sensational comeback to secure their first positive result of the campaign.

Barcelona Outclassed By Spirited Underdogs

It took only two minutes for Antwerp to find the back of the net against Xavi’s Barcelona, owing to a poor attempt at a clearance. Barca goalkeeper Inaki Pena played the ball to defensive midfielder Oriol Romeu. The Spaniard tried to play it straight to teammate Andreas Christensen, but his pass lacked guile and was easily intercepted by Arthur Vermeeren. Winning possession in a dangerous area, Vermeeren wasted no time in getting his shot away and easily found the roof of Barca’s net.

The Blaugrana looked eager for a response but were struggling to string passes together. Their equalizer finally arrived a good 35 minutes into the game, owing to a sweeping counterattack. Getting on the ball inside Antwerp’s half, Ferran Torres squared the ball off to Lamine Yamal on the right and made a run for the box. Yamal superbly carried the ball forward and played it back to Torres, who took it in his stride and put it past Antwerp goalkeeper Jean Butez.

In the 56th minute, the hosts restored their advantage when Alhassan Yusuf dispossessed Romeu and played the ball straight to Vincent Janssen. The striker took a touch to steady himself at the far post before firing the ball into the back of the net.

Barcelona’s frantic push for the equalizer finally paid off in the first minute of stoppage time, when Marc Gulu applied a superb headed finish to Ilkay Gundogan’s free-kick delivery into the box. Unfortunately for Xavi and Co., there was still a lot of fight left in the underdogs. A minute after seeing their slender lead wiped off, Antwerp put their noses in front for the third time on the night, and this time, for good. Jelle Bataille played a perfectly weighted pass to George Ilenikhena, who comfortably put the ball away.

On Wednesday, both Antwerp and Barcelona had 11 shots. However, the hosts kept more of those on target: 5 to 3. They also created four big chances, as opposed to Barca’s two. The home team ended the game with an xG of 1.67, while the Catalans’ xG was at a disappointing 1.13.

The 3-2 victory ensured Antwerp did not end their Champions League campaign without points under their belt. The Belgian Pro League club had lost all five of their matches before their win over the five-time European champions. Barca, meanwhile, still finished as Group H winners, courtesy of FC Porto’s win over Shakhtar Donetsk.

Robert Lewandowski Endures Another Torrid Night

One of the best strikers of this generation, Robert Lewandowski has been enduring a sub-par campaign at Barcelona. He has been missing presentable chances, struggling to outsmart defenders, and his first touches have also been below par.

In Belgium, the Polish attacker had 0 shots and created only one chance. He completed 15 passes, but only one of those was in the final third of the pitch. Additionally, he was dispossessed thrice, lost four of five ground duels, and had only three touches inside the opposition box. Owing to his poor display, Xavi hooked the 35-year-old in the 72nd minute.

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