Barcelona hopes Super Cup win is turning point after woes

MADRID (AP) — Maybe the tough times are finally over for Barcelona.

With a big victory over its main rival on Sunday, Barcelona got back to celebrating — and to feeling good about its future again.

The 3-1 win against Real Madrid in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia gave Barcelona its first trophy since it was hit by financial problems and saw Lionel Messi leave in 2021, which set off a gloomy period of struggles on and off the field.

“Hopefully this will be a turning point,” Barcelona coach Xavi said. “This can give us some tranquility going forward.”

Xavi, the former midfield star who helped Barcelona win a slew of trophies as a player, had yet to win a title since taking over as coach not long after the crisis erupted in 2021.

He was part of the revamping process undertaken by the Catalan club to try to overcome its financial problems and the poor management by former club officials.

“We’ve been through some tough years, with financial difficulties, Messi’s departure,” Xavi said.

Barcelona’s last title came in the 2021 Copa del Rey under former coach Ronald Koeman. That was Messi’s 35th and final title with Barcelona before he left for Paris Saint-Germain in a tough blow for Barcelona and its fans. The team has twice been eliminated in the group stage of the Champions League since he left.

New president Joan Laporta took measures to try to fix the financial woes and went on a signing spree that gave Xavi players like Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha, though the results had not come until Sunday’s convincing win against defending champion Madrid.

“This is special. We had said that we were going to make our fans happy again,” Laporta said. “We have an extraordinary generation of players and they are being coached by a great coach.”

Lewandowski and youngsters Gavi and Pedri scored a goal each for Barcelona in the final in Riyadh, when Barcelona was in control from the start in one of its best performances since Xavi took over.

“It matters to me how we won it, not only that we won it,” Xavi said. “It was extraordinary.”

Barcelona had beaten defending Copa del Rey champions Real Betis in a penalty shootout in the semifinals of the revamped competition.

It was Barcelona’s first Super Cup win since the tournament turned into a Final Four format and was taken to Saudi Arabia in lucrative deal for the Spanish soccer federation. It lost to Madrid in the semifinals last season. The Catalan club has won the Super Cup 14 times, two more than Madrid, but this was the first since 2018.

Barcelona is also doing well in the Spanish league, where it leads Madrid by three points. The Catalan club dominated the league before Messi departed, winning eight titles in 11 seasons, but the last was in 2019.

Its next league match is against relegation-threatened Getafe on Sunday, though on Thursday it plays at third-division club Ceuta in the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey.

“We already have to start thinking about the Copa and the league again,” Xavi said. “We are not slowing down now.”

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Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press