Barcelona will be aiming to bounce back from their midweek defeat to Real Madrid when they lock horns with Girona in La Liga on Monday night.
The Blaugrana suffered a disappointing 0-4 defeat at Camp Nou against their eternal rivals last Wednesday, which sent them crashing out of the Copa del Rey at the semi-final stages.
However, Barcelona now find themselves presented with a chance to take a step closer to the La Liga triumph. With Real Madrid losing to Villarreal last night, a win for the Catalans over their local rivals tomorrow at Camp Nou would increase their lead to 15 points.
Ahead of the game, Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez spoke to the media and discussed the importance of the contest as well as the implications of Real Madrid’s loss to Villarreal.
On Real Madrid losing to Villarreal: It was already a very important game before the Madrid game but now it is even more important because we can leave them fifteen points behind with thirty to play. It’s a great opportunity and we can’t fail, we’re playing an extraordinary league.
“We want to be champions and tomorrow would be another step forward. It would give us a very important margin. It will be a complicated game, Míchel is working very well, it will cost us for sure, with the help of the fans and playing at home, with the defeat of Madrid it motivates us even more to win”.
On the cup defeat to Real Madrid: “We’ve analysed the reasons for the mistakes we made, especially in the first half. In the first half we had to be ahead on the scoreboard, you can’t forgive so much and when you forgive, Madrid are the team that make you pay most dearly for it.
“We’ve turned the page and we’re focusing on La Liga. When we were knocked out of the Champions League we made a pact to win the league, it’s the fairest competition because it gives you the work of the whole season. We are focused on the eleven games.”
On whether injuries affected them against Madrid: “We don’t make excuses for the absentees, which are obviously noticeable. We have to mature. When we play Madrid we’ll have to be more forceful and not make mistakes that psychologically kill us.
“We are growing as a team and we are competing very well. In the big games we’ve lacked this maturity and that’s what we’re working on.”
On the merits of the team: “At the moment, we still have to win the league, we can’t summarise because we haven’t won, we have to keep winning games. Tomorrow is important, we can’t summarise, we have to focus on the game, recover our feelings, the feeling of the first half the other day, which for me was brilliant.”
On Ez Abde: “Abde is making the most of his loan spell, he is making a difference, they are very happy in Pamplona, he is being professional and playing very well. Barça have to ensure that he is at the level he was yesterday, that he is at every game.
“When he comes back we will look at him, we will evaluate him and decide what to do with him, he could be a very important player in the future.”
On what his team needs: “More time. If we didn’t win titles, there wouldn’t be time. We won the Super Cup, we competed until the semi-final in the cup, we have the league in front of us, it’s true that in Europe we haven’t done well. We’re still under construction, when we’ve had two or three years with these players we won’t be under construction, but on this road, we have to win, as I said at the Gamper.”
On the area that needs improvement: “A lot of things, we need to be more mature, compete better, the one-on-one duels, be more effective, more forceful. We’ve controlled games and we haven’t been able to take advantage of it. Next year we’ll try again.”
On Sergio Busquets’ future: “Let’s see how the season ends, he is very important, he is transcendental in the game and outside, he is an example as captain and a role model for all his teammates to look up to. I have told him many times that I want him to continue but I understand, this year if everything goes well he can leave with titles and he would leave in a very good moment. It’s difficult. I will insist that he continues.”
On transfers: “I meet with Mateu and Jordi every day, it wasn’t an emergency meeting, it will be decided at the end of the season. We are very excited about this league, we haven’t won it for three seasons, it’s not the time to talk about signings.”
On the fan support: “We will continue to compete and we will try to make them proud. The team leaves their skin on the pitch, losing 0-4 the team gave their all, we didn’t know how to compete and they were deserved winners. And now we have to think about Girona, the fans are being very important.”
On the injuries of Pedri and Ousmane Dembele: “The feelings have not been good, it’s a question of feelings and they were looking forward to participating but we don’t want to take any risks. Their feelings will determine their return.”
On Arnau Martinez’s links to Barcelona: “I can’t talk about players for next year, he’s an interesting player, he’s having a great season and I’m glad, from here on nothing more.”
On Marcelo Bielsa: “He is a benchmark coach, different, very methodical. I have shared talks with him and we met in Amsterdam at an Aspire conference, he is very interesting to listen to.”
On the team’s one-on-one play: “No, I don’t think there is a lack of one-on-ones, at the end of the day we have generated a lot. It’s true that in the last game Raphinha had a hard time against Camavinga, but we generated a lot, I remember a lot of one-on-one goals. Ansu, Balde… I don’t think we lack one-on-one. In the three-quarter zone of the pitch, we have to be calmer to make the best decision.”
On the team’s defence after conceding four goals: “The team is fine, we have turned the page, it’s a lost title and now we focus on the league, it’s the main objective. We want this league and we’re going for it.”
On Real Madrid’s loss to Villarreal: “We depend on ourselves, tomorrow it’s very important to get the distance of 15 points. Nothing will be done but it would be a spectacular distance. I’m not interested in what Madrid do or don’t. I’m interested in what happens to us.”
On the potential 15-point lead: “I wouldn’t take it for granted because they would still have 16 points to win. When the League is won we’ll celebrate but nothing has been won, we have to win it and tomorrow is a very good test to react and get three points.”
On lack of effectiveness in front of goal: “You improve by training. The effectiveness depends on the player but also on the confidence they feel on the part of the ‘staff’. What can be worked on is definition and finishing.”
On the team’s physical condition and injuries: “On a physical level, they have given me data that we are the team that runs the most, the most sprints and efforts, I think we are number one. Injuries are normal, what team doesn’t have injuries? Too much importance is given to injuries here.”
On the team’s mentality when trailing: “There are moments when psychologically we have to unite, we are a young team, we are under construction and we will mature through disappointments, but that’s how it is. We have a positive attitude and we want to win the league.”
On the incentives for the team for the rest of the season: “We’re talking about winning the league. I don’t understand it. Winning the league is great. We have won five Champions League titles in our history and we are required to win the Champions League.
“But winning La Liga gives you stability. I remember Zidane after winning the Champions League saying that the objective was to win the league. From the inside, we value what we are doing, against a very strong Real Madrid. People play down the fact that winning the league will be extraordinary for us.”
On corners: “What you haven’t said is that we are not conceding corners. If we talk about corners, we have to talk first about not conceding, and then about trying to score. We try to make the players create the options in strategic plays.”