Barcelona are now a Europa League club.
As crazy as it might seem, the Blaugrana have nosedived from within touching distance of the Champions League final to being dumped out of the group stages in the space of just two years.
It was the first time that the Catalans had fallen at the first hurdle of the Champions League since 2000 and marks their first appearance in the Europa League since the distance days of 2003/04.
Barcelona in the Europa League
It really does mark a nadir in the recent history of one of Europe’s biggest clubs with Barcelona undergoing a crippling financial crisis that led to Lionel Messi leaving on a free transfer this summer.
However, as the saying goes, every day is a new opportunity and perhaps Xavi might be looking at Barcelona’s humiliating drop down to the Europa League as a chance to secure major silverware.
Besides, let’s face it, Barcelona were never going to win the Champions League this season, but it’s not from without the realms of possibility that they could conquer Europe’s secondary competition.
Who are the Europa League favourites?
But with other European powerhouses dropping down to the Europa League from its more high-profile cousin, are Barcelona actually the leading contenders to lift UEFA’s heaviest trophy?
Well, that’s exactly what we sought to investigate as Barca embark upon their new journey and the data gurus over at FiveThirthyEight provide the perfect model to sift through the top competitors.
And with their advanced predictive model – which you can learn more about here – wading through the complex nature of the Europa League’s new knockout tree, the results really were fascinating.
The result? Well, Barcelona were indeed named as the favourites for Europa League glory with a perceived 12% chance of winning the final, but they were by no means the runaway leaders.
Every Europa League club ranked
In fact, with two other Champions League dropouts boasting an 11% chance of Europa League success, it’s fair to say that Xavi has a fight on his hands to secure some continental silverware.
So, let’s take a closer look at how the remaining 24 teams are shaping up by checking out how the data analysts rank each of them by their chances of winning the final in Seville on May 18.
24. Sheriff Tiraspol – <1% chance of winning
23. Galatasaray – <1%
22. Spartak Moscow – <1%
21. Red Star Belgrade – <1%
20. Olympiacos – <1%
19. Braga – <1%
18. Dinamo Zagreb – <1%
17. Lazio – 1%
16. Rangers – 1%
15. Lyon – 2%
14. Eintracht Frankfurt – 2%
13. Zenit St. Petersburg – 3%
12. Real Betis – 3%
11. AS Monaco – 4%
10. Real Sociedad – 6%
9. Sevilla – 6%
8. Bayer Leverkusen – 7%
7. West Ham United – 7%
6. Napoli – 7%
5. Atalanta – 7%
4. FC Porto – 8%
3. RB Leipzig – 11%
2. Borussia Dortmund – 11%
1. Barcelona – 12%
Barcelona are the favourites… just
So, there you have it, Barcelona lead the race for Europa League glory from two of the Bundesliga’s strongest sides by a nose hair.
Naturally, football never goes by the book at the best of times and European football is arguably even more unpredictable, but there’s no denying that Barcelona really do stand out from the rest.
It certainly will feel strange to see the likes of Memphis Depay, Gerard Pique, Frenkie de Jong and Dani Alves plying their trade in a competition that is often maligned and dismissed by many fans.
However, the Catalans certainly won’t be alone with Erling Haaland, Declan Rice, Pepe and Jude Bellingham also taking to the Champions League’s little brother to name just a few.
So, while it might well be an indictment of Barca’s free fall in recent years, perhaps for selfish reasons as fans we should crack open the popcorn ahead of a thrilling Europa League climax.
It might just be the tournament that sets the wheels in motion for Xavi’s new dynasty at Camp Nou.