Xavi: The hour of truth has arrived, for us tomorrow is a final
The Catalans' coach spoke ahead of the big clash with Valencia at Camp Nou
FC Barcelona have reached that point in the season when there is no time to celebrate victories or digest defeats. The hard-fought win at the Bernabeu is now a thing of the past and, after the league slip-up against Almería, the Blaugrana face Valencia at Spotify Camp Nou, considering the game a "final". "For us, tomorrow's game is a final. Madrid play next and we can put pressure on them. We want the three points, we can't make any more mistakes... and even less at home," said Xavi Hernandez at the press conference before the game on Saturday.
Xavi assured that the arrival of Ruben Baraja at Mestalla has given "aggressiveness", "intensity", "solidarity" and "defensive order" to Valencia. "They will be an opponent who, as they are in urgent need, will make things very difficult for us. We will have to be neat in attack. The win against Madrid was a boost to our morale and confidence, but now we have to take it to another competition, to La Liga. The moment of truth has arrived. We're playing for two titles and the defeat against Almeria has to serve as experience for us," he insisted. Aware that Barça will face a low block, he asked his players to "go off script" and "take more risks", because "if you do just enough, it's difficult to generate attacking situations".
In an appearance marked by the debate about the style generated by the image shown by the Cules in the Copa del Rey Clasico, Xavi insisted that "Barça is the most difficult club in the world". "We beat the La Liga and European champions at their ground and people are talking about possession. I said it last year and I got the shit kicked out of me: Barça is the most difficult club in the world because you win 0-1 at Madrid's stadium and it's not convincing. If it were the other way around, it would be a national holiday," he said. The Barcelona coach, however, understands that "at Barça, a transatlantic liner, there is always noise. The important thing is to manage the situation calmly," he said.
"We always want to defend with the ball, but at the Bernabéu we didn't manage it. There are moments when the opponents can subdue you. We will never look for 35% possession. We want it to be 60, 70 or even 80 per cent. We have to understand, however, that teams can subdue you. And we were extraordinarily good without the ball. The opposition plays and we work on our defence. We didn't dominate with the ball, but we dominated without it," he reflected on the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-finals. On the fight with Madrid for the two most prestigious titles in Spanish football, Xavi considered that the continental KO could benefit his side: "We'd like to stay alive in Europe, but it didn't happen. We'll have more time to recover well and train better.
Xavi gave an update on the fitness of the injured players in the squad. While Andreas Christensen "is already at 100%" and Robert Lewandowski's sensations "are very good", Pedri and Ousmane Dembélé "continue to make progress". For the coach, the really important thing is that Barça survived without them on a stage of maximum demand. "We showed that we are a winning team. It's very important to get positive results without the team's most important players," he justified. Sergi Roberto, who has been renewed until 30 June 2024, was another big name at the hearing: "For me his renewal is great news. He is an extraordinary player, I have praised him many times. In the dressing room we value him very highly as a person and a professional. He is a guarantee".
Once again, the Catalan coach stated he sees Ansu Fati doing 'very well'. That the youth player "will be important" and that "I have a lot of faith in him". He did not move a millimetre from his usual discourse with the '10'. Nor did he skimp on praise when asked about the growth of Franck Kessié. "We are very happy with him. He loses very few balls and has good timing to get into the box. He works for the team and is generous. These games are giving him confidence," he replied. Finally, Marcos Alonso is giving "a sensational performance". "He's a duel winner, he covers the back well, he's quick for the size he has and he gives us an outlet for the ball... He's a very professional player. And a good kid", he concluded.