Xavi's return not enough to prevent damaging loss

The more than welcome appointment of playing legend Xavi to the Camp Nou has already helped ease the 'crisis' narrative around world giants Barcelona. The fortunate 1-0 triumph in the former Al Sadd head coach's first game in charge in Catalonia against local rivals Espanyol cannot by itself cover up the deep cracks at the club, and with a whole slew of absentees for their Tuesday night Champions League game hosting Benfica, they're certainly in for a tough time. Read our preview here:

Demir-ly a flesh wound

The treatment room has swelled in recent weeks, and in some cases, totally without surprise. Many pundits, whilst admiring the burgeoning talents of Pedri and Ansu Fati, have been critical of just how heavily the youngsters have been relied upon by both club and country in 2021, and they now find themselves unable to help their remaining teammates potentially assure themselves of a knockout place with a win. Versatile full-back Sergiño Dest, hard-working forward Martin Braithwaite, and the inconsistent Ousmané Dembélé are their compatriots that are also unavailable, and the forward line has been further reduced by the worrying rumours swirling around Sergio Agüero and his heart condition. Gavi is yet another hot prospect that has been used unsparingly, and his presence in midfield should help to keep Blaugrana on the front foot. Ahead of him, almost by default, is likely to be Austrian wonderkid Yusuf Demir. The 18 year-old has found minutes hard to come by during his loan spell from Rapid Wien, but should find that at least temporarily resolved by the lack of alternatives up top. He excels when in tight spaces, which is bound to be the case on Tuesday under the close presence of the highly experienced Jan Vertonghen.

Darwin's evolution

Jorge Jesus' charges prepared for their must-win game by roaring back from a goal down to hit four in the last 12 minutes of their Taça de Portugal clash with Paços de Ferreira, and they will need similar levels of resolve and firepower to overcome the hosts. As Águias will have six in their midfield ranks, and the width in the lineup will almost exclusively be the responsibility of wing-backs Alejandro Grimaldo and Gilberto. Having been bested by Bayern Munich twice in a row, they have to go for the jugular, and will be aided in that endeavour by the attacking thrust of Uruguayan Darwin Núñez in behind Rafa. The 22 year-old hit a brace in the reverse fixture, and has eight goals in 10 starts for his club side. Adept at long shots and dribbling with the ball into dangerous areas, he is becoming a prominent player for his national side in a time of transition and uncertainty (especially now that Óscar Tabárez has been sacked 15 years into his second stint in charge).

Blue versus Red

The fairytale return of Xavi might be one that gets its 'happy ending', but a lot of work away from the pitch by both him and more pertinently the board at Barcelona will be required in order for them to resume their seat at the top table in European football. He has at his disposal a clutch of very exciting young players, but in the here and now, many of them will be missing on Tuesday night. It goes without saying that financially speaking, they need to remain in the competition, but Benfica have already shown them once how ruthless they can be as opponents. Casumo have odds of 5.10 for an away win that would severely jeopardise the hosts' continued participation, with Bayern awaiting in the final match.

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