Joao Felix struck twice as Barcelona flexed their muscles with a crushing 5-0 win over Royal Antwerp in the Champions League on Tuesday, showing their determination to be considered among Europe’s elite once again.
After consecutive humiliating group stage eliminations Barcelona are desperate to go deep in this season’s competition, last winning it eight years ago.
Felix shone for the Spanish champions on a stroll on a warm night in the Catalan capital, helped on their way by an own goal, with Robert Lewandowski and Gavi also scoring.
Barcelona’s 2015 triumph was the last in a run of four victories over a golden decade in the club’s history, during which current coach Xavi Hernandez was a key figure in midfield.
Xavi said those feats weighed heavy on the club now, that the current team were under “brutal” pressure to succeed in Europe.
It did not show against Antwerp, with Barcelona brushing aside Marc van Bommel’s Belgian title-winners with ease in their first Champions League appearance at the Olympic Stadium.
With Felix and Joao Cancelo joining on loan at the end of the summer transfer window, Barcelona immediately appear a more dynamic side, with supreme creative quality in the final third reflected in successive five-goal wins.
Felix opened the scoring for Barca after 11 minutes with a fine drilled finish after a neat passing move ended with Ilkay Gundogan feeding him.
Lewandowski added the second eight minutes later from close range after Frenkie de Jong’s superb ball found Felix, who crossed to the back post. It was the veteran Polish striker’s 100th European goal.
Barcelona went three goals up inside 22 minutes when Raphinha’s cross was deflected into his own net by Jelle Bataille.
Gavi added the fourth early in the second half with a blistering strike into the top corner after a long spell of Barcelona possession.
Raphinha created Barcelona’s fifth with a vicious cross to the back post where Felix nodded home as the hosts kept up the pressure.
Xavi brought on 16-year-old starlet Lamine Yamal to become the second youngest player of all time in the competition’s history.
The Spain winger almost became the youngest scorer too but hit the side netting after skipping around Antwerp goalkeeper Jean Butez.
Tougher challenges lie ahead, including a visit to Porto in their next European game at the start of October, but Barcelona’s self-esteem is higher than at any point since Lionel Messi left in 2021.
Xavi said Barcelona’s aim was to make it through the group first before worrying about bigger challenges, and this was a confident first step.