For the 12th year running, Barcelona qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League as group leaders after securing a 2-1 away win at PSV Eindhoven.
The fact that the Spanish giants achieved this with a game to spare in an extremely challenging group renders this achievement all the more impressive.
Gerard Pique was solid at the back and scored Barca’s insurance goal. And the defender commented on how the competition will spring to life in the knockout stages.
“We’ve been doing things well for years because a great generation has been together, so that’s why we’ve achieved so much,” he said after the full-time whistle.
“This group was one of the most difficult that there’s been in recent years and it wasn’t easy to qualify, but we’ve been reliable in almost every match and were again today.
“They created danger for us, but the second half went better. We know how to compete in the Champions League and the good part is coming now, the most difficult part.
“The knockout rounds will be different and you can’t have a bad day.”
The Catalan giants failed to make it past the quarter-finals in each of their last three campaigns and captain Lionel Messi had made a strong statement in the beginning of the season that the team will go to any lengths to secure a sixth Champions League trophy.
Ernesto Valverde is soothed by Barcelona‘s record on the road in the Champions League this season after they guaranteed top spot in Group B with a 2-1 win at PSV Eindhoven.
Barca struggled away from the Camp Nou in Europe last term, scoring just once in three group stage matches and surrendering a 4-1 lead against Roma on a dreadful night at the Stadio Olimpico to exit at the quarter-final stage.
But they put four goals past Tottenham at Wembley last month and second-half strikes from Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique proved enough for all three points at the Philips Stadion, despite Luuk De Jong setting up a tense finale.
In truth Barca rode their luck as Gaston Pereiro, De Jong and Denzel Dumfries were all denied by the frame of the goal in the opening 45 minutes, but Valverde is pleased with their progress.
The Barca head coach said in quotes on his club’s official website: “We’re so happy to have mathematically topped the group.
“Considering how much we have struggled away from home in recent years and found it hard to score goals, I’m especially pleased to have got two wins and a draw this year.
“PSV played well. They were very lively on the counter-attack and the balls we lost meant they were able to get into dangerous positions and even hit the woodwork a few times.
“It was a hard place to play at. But the more the game progressed the more chances we were able to create.”
Messi, as he has been for much of the last decade, was the architect of Barca’s latest success, opening the scoring with his 106th Champions League goal – the most by any player at one club in the competition.
The Argentinian, who bagged a hat-trick in the corresponding fixture at the Camp Nou in September, then provided the assist for Pique to instinctively divert into the net.
“We have fulfilled the goal of being the first in a very complicated group with great teams. We are very much content,” the Barcelona captain said.
On his latest record, he added: “I’m very happy, I just found out now. I’m very happy about this new statistic.”
PSV manager and former Barcelona midfielder Mark Van Bommel could not disguise his disappointment at an opportunity lost for the Dutch champions, who will finish bottom of the group.
He said: “You do not always get what you deserve. I’m badly disappointed.
“The best part is that everyone stood up and clapped after the last whistle. That says enough about the performance of the boys.
“We gave everything, had a good idea, a good way of playing and created so many opportunities. It is only once again the confirmation that we can very well keep up with these teams.”
Hola Blaugrana fans. And welcome to Wednesday’s Barcelona blog.
The Sport360 team will be here throughout the day, bringing you the latest Barcelona news, views and gossip.
9:00am – Van Bommel not buying Barca ‘crisis’ talk
PSV Eindhoven coach Mark van Bommel knows his side have their work cut out, despite Barcelona’s problems.
The two sides face each other in a Champions League Group B clash on Wednesday night in Eindhoven.
He told a press conference: “Barcelona’s results have not been what you might normally expect this season, but it’s not like they are in crisis.” Read Van Bommel’s pre-match quotes in full here.
8:30am – Vidal believes all Dembele needs is love
Arturo Vidal believes his Barcelona team-mate Ousmane Dembele “needs love”.
The 21-year-old France forward is reportedly unhappy at the Camp Nou, but scored a late equaliser to earn Barca a 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
“Ousmane needs love,” said Vidal, speaking ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash at PSV Eindhoven. Read his quotes in full here.
8:00am – Victory the primary objective for Valverde
Barcelona go into the Champions League clash against PSV Eindhoven with a host of injuries but nothing less than victory remains the objective for Ernesto Valverde.
Barca have failed to win any of their last three matches, with the Atletico draw the sixth La Liga clash in which they have dropped points out of 13 games.
Read what the Barcelona coach had to say ahead of the clash here.