Barcelona will be eager to strengthen their grip on the top spot in La Liga when they face off against RCD Mallorca on Tuesday night.
The reigning champions moved to the top of the standings after the 3-2 win over Celta Vigo, with Real Madrid’s derby defeat to Atletico meaning that Xavi Hernandez’s side now have a one-point lead.
A win at Son Moix tomorrow night would see Barça widen the gap at the top to four points and heap early pressure on their arch-rivals.
On the eve of the game, Xavi made an appearance for his customary press conference where he discussed several topics, including the recent injury to star midfielder Frenkie de Jong.
Midfield injuries and options
Providing an update on the Netherlands international’s situation, Xavi said: “Frenkie is a sensitive and very important loss for us because of the way we play and the way he has been playing since last season, at an exceptional level.
“There are many players to replace him and we hope we won’t be affected by his absence. We’ll see how he is after the break, but we hope he makes a good recovery and recovers one hundred percent.”
Talking about another injured midfielder in Pedri, Xavi said: “Pedri has a very good feeling, we’ll see what day we can get him back. It depends on how he feels. He’s doing very well.”
However, the manager insisted that he has plenty of options in midfield, highlighting the names of Sergi Roberto and Fermin Lopez as alternatives.
“We have alternatives and one of them is Sergi Roberto. He’s a formidable wildcard for me as a coach, a luxury wildcard. Just like Fermín, he’s a discovery and he can help us a lot, to be taken into account, he can be important.”
In the absence of Pedri and De Jong, Gavi is set to gain more prominence in the team and Xavi highlighted the 19-year-old’s qualities, saying:
“We know what Gavi is capable of. He is very complete. In defence and in attack, he can be brilliant. He’s a beastly footballer, he’s soul, heart, passion… he’s vital for the team. For a midfielder of his ability, he’s got to deliver passes and goals. I’m happy for him.”
While on the matter of injuries, Xavi was also asked about Vitor Roque, who suffered an ankle injury with Athletico Paranaense, which could see him get sidelined for a significant period.
But, Xavi affirmed that the club still plans on having him in the squad come January, saying:
“There is a possibility in January. The doctors have spoken and there is no operation, he will undergo conservative treatment to recover well.”
Facing Mallorca as league leaders
As iterated earlier, Barcelona are now seated atop the La Liga standings heading into the game against Mallorca. But Xavi insisted that they will take things one game after another and not get carried away.
“We don’t make predictions, we take it one game at a time. We have a very difficult away game. First Mallorca and then we’ll think about Sevilla. That’s how we’ve done well,” he said.
“The fact that we’re at the top means we’re doing things well. At this point in the season, the lead is perhaps merely incidental, but we also like it.”
On the prospect of facing a team like Mallorca, Xavi highlighted the opposition’s defensive prowess and physicality, saying:
“We know that Mallorca is a difficult team, because they have a lot of defensive strengths, they are solid and unselfish in their work.
“They are a physically strong team, who play direct and with players like Muriqi or Abdon Prats who play well in space, as well as full-backs who get forward well, or players of a high level like Darder, a difficult game.”
Having not found it easy to play through Celta Vigo’s low block last time out, Barcelona could find themselves facing a similar problem tomorrow against Mallorca. When asked if Joao Felix could be the key to unlocking the low block, Xavi said:
“Joao as well as Ferran, Lamine, Rapha… They have to provide more mobility, change positions, attack the spaces… Celta threw us off balance many times and in attack, we have to attack better and be better positioned.”
Xavi also pointed out the importance that Ilkay Gundogan brings to the team with his qualities and versatility, saying:
“Gündogan can play at the base, like Oriol Romeu or Busquets before him, but we believe that his potential is to get into the box and provide assists, that’s what we want from him, and even more so now that we don’t have Pedri, he’s a very similar player.”
Squad, new signings, and roles
With Barcelona taking a lead over Real Madrid, Xavi was asked who had the better squad among the two clubs, to which the manager replied by saying:
“I will tell you in June who has the better squad. These are opinions and ways of looking at football. There are 200,000 opinions and 7 million coaches in Catalonia. I’m very happy with my squad, I don’t like comparisons, they’ve never gone well for me.”
The Barça boss also pointed at the versatility that runs in the squad, saying: “We have a squad that is not very big but with many players who can occupy many positions.
“Sergi Roberto, Cancelo, Ferran, Rafa, Joao Félix, Ronald Araujo… versatile players who are very good for the team.”
Highlighting the contributions of the new signings and their adaptation to the team, Xavi added:
“You always want these results. It’s the individual quality of the players. Now that Iñigo is coming in, Oriol Romeu has proven himself, Gündogan has proven himself, and Cancelo has proven himself.
“The one who may surprise the most is perhaps Joao Félix, but he has understood it very well and he can be very important for us. The talent is showing and I’m happy with the signings.”
The manager also touched upon the departure of Ousmane Dembele, stating that he still loves the Frenchman and that Barça had found solutions to make up for his exit.
“I haven’t seen PSG games, of course I remember, I don’t resent him, I love him anyway and wish him the best, but we have to continue,” he said.
“We have found solutions with Rafa, Lamine, or Ferran. Sometimes when one player leaves, another one appears, and we’re delighted with what we have.”
With great bench strength comes question marks over the roles of some players and Xavi was asked about the role and the part that Raphinha has in his plans.
“Rapha came on very well, he reminded me of Ferran when he wasn’t involved so much. He was sensational in the defensive work and then he was important in the second goal. He can play in the box as an inside player or as a wide midfielder,” Xavi said.
“He hasn’t played so much because he was sent off or was sent off the day of Getafe, from then on he will come in and he will be important, I have no doubt.”
On the possibility of rotating Jules Kounde, who has played every match so far this season, saying:
“There are two or three players who have played all the games. One is the goalkeeper who we believe is not fatigued and can play all the games. We will make changes because there are players who need it. There is enough time to rotate.”
On the Madrid derby
The Barcelona manager also spoke about the derby between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, the result of which proved to be quite favourable for the club.
“I saw it, it was a great game, especially from Atlético, with intensity and generosity in the work. A great game of football. I only saw the game, it’s a very favourable result for Atlético, a very important win,” he said.
“I don’t want to get involved in anything about Madrid or Ancelotti, whether he made a mistake or not.”
“I always see Madrid as strong and like all teams they have strengths and weaknesses. We analyse them like any other team and we don’t give them more importance. We give importance to Mallorca, when we play against Madrid I will tell you but now we haven’t analysed it,” he added.
There are already complaints emerging from Real Madrid about the refereeing in the derby, and Xavi was asked for his thoughts on the officiating on Sunday night.
“It’s a question for them. When we’ve felt we’ve been wronged, we’ve said so. The question is for them,” said Xavi, sidestepping the question.
Source: Mundo Deportivo