Barcelona manager Quique Setien said on Friday he thinks his team can challenge for the UEFA Champions League and explained the Catalan giants have a "lot of confidence" in new signing Martin Braithwaite.
Setien told reporters he is optimistic about Barca's European hopes despite captain Lionel Messi having said his team are "not at the level to fight for the title" in an interview with Mundo Deportivo (h/t ESPN):
"I have seen every year how Champions Leagues are won and I think we could have the same chance as other teams.
"It is true that there is no margin for error and there are things we have to try to improve and do better. We are not happy with everything but I think we are growing little by little and we are reaching levels that will allow us to challenge."
Barcelona play Serie A side Napoli in the last 16, with the first leg at the Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday.
The Spanish champions have suffered painful defeats to Roma and Liverpool in the last two campaigns and face a team that have notched up some impressive wins this season:
Before then, the Catalan giants take on Eibar in La Liga at the Camp Nou. Setien has called up new signing Martin Braithwaite to his squad for the match after he completed an emergency transfer from Leganes.
Setien said the club have followed the 28-year-old for some time and is backing the Denmark international to succeed at the Camp Nou.
"Martin is a player we have been following for a long time. He has some characteristics that will help us a lot. He's a boy that fits the needs we have and we have a lot of confidence he will help us. Not only is he a good footballer but he has a good brain too. I'm sure in some games we will use him from the start, maybe it's a bit early now. He comes in decent form but there are some ideas we have to explain to him."
Barcelona have spent €18 million to bring in Braithwaite on a deal until June 2024. He is only eligible to play in La Liga for Barca in 2019-20, and his signing has attracted criticism.
Former Barcelona striker Julio Salinas has described the transfer as a "poor decision" and "pure madness," per EP (h/t AS). Rivaldo told Betfair (h/t Marca) that he does not "understand nor agree with [Braithwaite's] signing."
Braithwaite's career has taken him to teams including Esbjerg, Toulouse, Middlesbrough, Bordeaux and Leganes. He has scored 84 goals in 348 club games and said he was not completely surprised by Barca's interest:
The Dane has plenty of work to do to win over his doubters at the Camp Nou, but his arrival will allow Setien room to rotate attackers Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Ansu Fati in the second half of the season.