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Royal Antwerp manager talks Yamal, Vermeeren, Xavi, Messi ahead of Barcelona encounter

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Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

Barcelona will begin their UEFA Champions League 2023/24 campaign on Tuesday night when they lock horns with reigning Belgian champions Royal Antwerp.

The Blaugrana are eager to do well in Europe after the failings of the last two campaigns and even though the clash appears straightforward on paper, Royal Antwerp could prove to be a potential banana skin for Xavi Hernandez & co.

Ahead of the game, the Belgian giants’ manager Mark van Bommel, a former Barcelona midfielder, spoke to the media and touched upon several topics including his time with the Catalan giants.

“It’s great to see Xavi again. Along with Puyi, Valdés, Jorquera, I have some very good memories of being here with him,” van Bommel stated.

It is the first time that Royal Antwerp are playing in the UEFA Champions League but van Bommel insisted that they are unfazed by the occasion and will look to play their natural game against Barcelona.

“We are going to play football the way we know how. We will try to give everything we can. We have to be realistic, it’s our first time in the Champions League and it will be a very difficult game,” he said.

“They are on their way to becoming a great team, but they already are. In the end, we want to have the ball and we will try to have possession of the ball.”

Barcelona head into the match on the back of a stunning 5-0 win over Real Betis on Saturday in La Liga. But van Bommel stated that the Catalans’ form does not scare his team, saying:

“Nothing to be afraid of, it was not only against Betis but last season already showed what Barça and Xavi’s signature is, they are trying to get to the top.”

“On a technical level they play very well. You can see Xavi’s influence there. It’s incredible to watch,” the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona star added.

Van Bommel then heaped praise on Barcelona’s in-form attacking department, hailing them as ‘one of the best in the UCL’.

“I think they have one of the best attacking units in the Champions League, but it’s not just the front line, it’s the whole team. They are one of the best teams in Europe,” he said.

“If we look at Barcelona’s record, it’s true that they haven’t played at the level we are used to. But this team can win the Champions League. It will be very difficult,” he added.

It has been reported that Barcelona are interested in Royal Antwerp’s teenage midfielder Arthur Vermeeren and will keep a close eye on him in tomorrow’s game.

Van Bommel was asked about the 18-year-old and his links to the Blaugrana, saying:

“I’m very happy that he’s been playing with us all this time. It’s incredible how he has improved in a year. Since he started playing he has been a determining factor. He is not only interesting for Barcelona but for all the teams.”

From one exciting teenage talent to another, van Bommel opened up on Barcelona’s Lamine Yamal and the club’s academy which has produced some amazing talents including Lionel Messi.

“I was there at the beginning of Messi’s career. Barcelona always produce very good young players, they have a great youth academy. In the end, it doesn’t matter how old you are if you know how to play good football,” van Bommel said.

Source: Mundo Deportivo

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