The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Optimism back in Barcelona ranks

Barcelona: A welcome air of optimism has returned to the Nou Camp after Barcelona produced their most impressive performance of the season in a 3-0 victory over Inter Milan on Tuesday.

Players said they were less concerned about setting a new record for consecutive Champions League victories than the morale-boosting consequences of such a convincing win after a change of coaches and a poor run of league form.

“It is a long time since I enjoyed myself so much on the pitch,” midfielder Xavi told reporters. “It was just what we needed and was a very important day for the club.”

Barcelona’s emphatic win broke the mark set by AC Milan when they recorded 10 straight wins in the Champions League in the 1992-93 season and matched the record of 11 wins in European competition set by Ajax Amsterdam over two seasons of Cup Winners Cup action in 1987 and 1988.

Goals from the impressive Javier Saviola and Dutch midfielder Philip Cocu put Barca well clear inside the opening half hour as new coach Radomir Antic’s side played with the confidence that has been absent in so many matches this season.

The Catalans also showed an unaccustomed resilience in defence to keep Inter at bay at the end of the first half. Striker Patrick Kluivert completed a classy win with a neatly-taken third goal on 67 minutes.

Xavi was one of a string of players who seem to have been given a new lease of life since Antic took over from Dutchman Louis van Gaal at the end of last month.

“I am playing in a more advanced role now and have more freedom to try things out than before,” said the Barcelona playmaker who created constant problems with his defence-splitting passes to the Saviola and Kluivert.

Saviola said he felt comfortable playing in the more attacking role given to him by Antic. “I am playing in a different way under the new coach and now have more freedom to attack. I am very happy because it was one of my best performances for the club.”

With nine points from three games, Barcelona will almost certainly make the last eight of the competition and can now turn their attention to improving their position in the Spanish first division.

They moved up to 11th position following a 2-0 win over city rivals Espanyol on Saturday, but are still 12 points behind Deportivo Coruna who occupy the last berth for qualification for next season’s Champions League.

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