FC Barcelona manager Xavi believes the club has been dealt the toughest possible draw in the Europa League knockout round play-offs after being paired with Manchester United.
Barcelona will compete in the Europa League after the new year after failing to advance from a UEFA Champions League group that included Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.
They have now been eliminated from the UEFA Champions League in successive group stages for the second time, having done so under Louis van Gaal in 1997/1998 and 1998/1999.
Last season, the Blaugrana were eliminated in the last eight of the Europa League by eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt, and Xavi said they had been unlucky yet again following Monday’s draw.
“We’ll have to compete going to Manchester against a really tough rival,” Xavi said ahead of Tuesday’s La Liga match against Osasuna.
“It’s a historic rival that has grown significantly since the arrival of Erik ten Hag, with outstanding individual players.” Once again, we have been assigned the most difficult opponent in the Europa League.
“It’s a huge challenge for us, and our players will most likely be more motivated against such a strong team.”
Barcelona’s next European match will pit them against an old foe in Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 20 goals in 34 games against the Blaugrana.
He scored nine goals against them in La Liga, two in the UEFA Champions League, five in the Copa del Rey, and one in the Supercopa de Espana (four).
Xavi dismissed suggestions that the Manchester United striker is in decline, saying, “He seems to me to be a great player who has marked an era, and he can still make a difference.”