The last 6 times Barca played in the UEFA Cup / Europa League – & how they fared

Celtic face Barcelona during the 2003-04 UEFA Cup Credit: Alamy
Celtic face Barcelona during the 2003-04 UEFA Cup Credit: Alamy

After years of competing among Europe’s elite in the Champions League, Barcelona are being made to stomach a second successive season in Europe’s secondary cup competition.

The Catalan club finished behind Bayern Munich and Inter in their group, with their third-place finish resulting in them dropping into the Europa League, where they’ll play fellow fallen giants Manchester United in the first knockout round.

It still feels like a novelty today, but back around the turn of the century they were regularly in the competition when it was known as the UEFA Cup. Here’s how they fared the last six times they competed in it.

2021-22

Having succeeded Ronald Koeman midway through Barcelona’s ailing group stage campaign, Xavi was unable to steer the club to qualification.

The club dropped into Europe’s second-tier competition for the first time in the ‘Europa League’ era after drawing 0-0 at home to Benfica and losing 3-0 away to Benfica.

Xavi’s side made it past Napoli and Galatasaray but were eliminated at the quarter-final stage after losing 3-2 at home to eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt – a result raucously cheered on by thousands of travelling German fans, who totally took over the Camp Nou for one infamously unforgettable night after buying home tickets.

“Clearly the atmosphere did not help and the club is looking into why this happened. The players want to know why too,” Xavi said.

“It was a clear miscalculation on our part. This cannot be allowed to happen. It was more like a final with the stadium divided.”

“It’s a disgrace what has happened,” added club president Joan Laporta. “I feel embarrassed.”

2003-04

During Barcelona’s last campaign of the ‘UEFA Cup’ era, they were relieved to be in Europe at all. Louis van Gaal was sacked in January 2003 with the club hovering above the relegation zone and they needed a late-season run to finish 6th.

Their European campaign started inauspiciously. Slovakian side Matador Puchov held Barca to a 1-1 draw in the first round before being pummeled 8-0 in the return leg (the UEFA Cup was a straight knockout in those days), while Panionios and Brondby were dispatched with relative ease.

But they wouldn’t last much longer. Martin O’Neill’s Celtic were a European force during the mid-00s and edged Barcelona out of Europe by a single goal over two, well-fought ties.

A cautionary tale perhaps; the modern side shouldn’t expect to stroll to Europa League success just because Mes Que Un Club.

2000-01

After being squeezed out of the Champions League by AC Milan and David O’Leary’s Leeds, Barcelona dropped into the third round of the UEFA Cup in late 2000.

Led by Rivaldo, and fielding a team with the likes of Frank de Boer, Marc Overmars and Patrick Kliuvert, Barcelona dispatched Club Brugge and AEK Athens to head through to the quarter-finals.

Fellow La Liga side Celta Vigo were beaten on away goals before Liverpool, Gary McAllister and EastEnders proved a step too far in the semis.

Barcelona and Liverpool players scrap during their UEFA Cup match, April 2001. Credit: Alamy
Barcelona and Liverpool players scrap during their UEFA Cup match, April 2001. Credit: Alamy

READ: Recalling when Barca vs Liverpool came second to EastEnders

1995-96

Back in 1995, only the league winners from each country qualified for the Champions League and fourth-placed Barca found themselves in that season’s UEFA Cup.

The strength of the competition is reflected in the opponents they faced – Sevilla and PSV Eindhoven were beaten en route to a semi-final exit against Bayern Munich (of course).

Bayern would win the final on aggregate against Zinedine Zidane’s Bordeaux.

1987-88

The footballing landscape was very different in the late 1980s; English clubs were banned from playing in Europe and crack Eastern European sides littered the scene.

But Barcelona weren’t very good, trailing Real Madrid in Spain and not experiencing much success in continental competitions.

Victories over Dynamo Moscow and Albanian side Flamurtari mattered little when Bayer Leverkusen knocked them out of the UEFA Cup with a 1-0 win in the Camp Nou in March 1988.

At least they were knocked out by the future winners after Leverkusen beat city neighbours Espanyol on penalties in the final.

1986-87

Chastened by losing the European Cup final to Steaua Bucharest in their own stadium, Barcelona bought Brits Mark Hughes and Gary Lineker in their attempt to make amends the following season.

It wouldn’t quite work. While Lineker fired in plenty of goals, Hughes was a relative flop and Terry Venables’ side could only finish second in La Liga.

Their UEFA Cup campaign didn’t produce silverware either, as Barca were shocked by Jim McLean’s Dundee United in the quarter-finals.

Let’s face it, such an occurrence could surely never happen again.

Barcelona strikers Mark Hughes and Gary Lineker, 1986 Credit: Alamy
Barcelona strikers Mark Hughes and Gary Lineker, 1986 Credit: Alamy

READ: The 3 British players to play for Barcelona & how they fared

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