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Xavi talks Ferran, Araujo, Pedri, Yamal, Cancelo, Felix ahead of Barcelona vs Royal Antwerp

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Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

As Barcelona get set to take on Royal Antwerp in their first Group H game of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, manager Xavi Hernandez made his customary appearance before the press today.

After tasting success in La Liga and the Spanish Supercup, the 43-year-old is under pressure to do well in the Champions League, especially with the Catalans having faced group-stage eliminations in the last two seasons.

And, outlining the team’s objectives for Europe this season, Xavi said: “The first year was not adequate for us to compete, last year it was adequate for us to compete but we didn’t get the results. This season we want to make the leap.”

Outlining the ambition to finish as group winners, he added: “The objective is clear, it’s to get through the group, then we’ll talk about it.

“We have to be in the last 16, it’s our main objective after two years without doing so. It’s the clear objective, to try to get through as group winners.”

Barcelona have strengthened the squad significantly this past summer and Xavi believes that there is enough quality to do well in the Champions League, although he insisted that the team must show it on the pitch.

“In terms of playing and in terms of results. Last year we played well but the results weren’t good enough. We have strengthened well and we have the squad to compete in Europe, but it’s not about words, it’s about facts,” he said.

On Tuesday, Xavi will come up against a former teammate in the form of Mark van Bommel. The Royal Antwerp manager spent a year at Barcelona as a player and shared the dressing room with Xavi as well as Barça’s sporting director Deco.

“I have great memories of him as a teammate and as a rival, he was a physically very strong player. He was a good teammate and a good friend. He is doing a good job at Antwerp,” Xavi said of van Bommel.

Highlighting the qualities of the Catalans’ opposition for tomorrow, the manager added: “I would emphasise the flanks. With Janssen as a reference up front. They have a good goalkeeper with good footwork. That’s why they won the league last year.”

On whether there is added pressure on him when it comes to the Champions League, Xavi replied: “Yes, always, I have to prove myself in every game, this is Barça. We all have extraordinary pressure but it’s a challenge and I like challenges.

“They are challenges that I set myself as a coach and as a team. I have to convince the players and give them the motivation to give their best.”

Given the form that Barcelona’s forwards have displayed recently, Xavi has a dilemma when it comes to selecting his starting XI. When asked about the situation, he said:

“In the end it’s a blessed problem that there are a lot of people in great form, performing at a high level. It’s difficult to make the starting eleven, but it’s as important to start as it is to come on in the second half.”

Ferran Torres has been in brilliant form. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

Ferran Torres has been the most prolific forward for Barcelona so far this season despite his limited minutes. Having been linked to an exit in the summer to making a comeback of this sorts, the Spaniard has displayed great mental resolve.

“He told me that he needed to have a very good pre-season, that he was convinced that he could give his best and that he would prove it. We are not surprised because we have seen him train,” Xavi said of his in-form forward.

On the draw and the opponents in Europe this season, the Barcelona manager commented: “Last year we were unlucky in the draw, the group was really difficult, this year we have to prove it, tomorrow we play against the Belgian League champions, they are a very good team.

“It’s a test for us to show that in the Champions League we can compete against anyone.”

Providing an update on the condition of Ronald Araujo, who returned to group training today, but did not make the squad list, Xavi said: “He will be at full strength on Saturday to be available for the squad.”

On Araujo’s fellow injury-enforced absentee, the manager said: “Pedri is doing very well, he is feeling very good, he still needs a bit of time, I can’t give a date because it depends on how he feels.

“But the important thing is that he recovers well and that he is with us as soon as possible, as well as possible”.

On his message for the fans ahead of the UCL campaign, he stated: “To the fans we promise them work and sacrifice and to make them enjoy themselves like they did on Saturday.”

Talking about his own mood and feelings heading into the UCL clash, Xavi added: “I’m always positive, I was born positive. I’m motivated and excited and now I have to curb the euphoria a bit too, tell the players that they have done a lot of things well but they need to make corrections afterwards.”

Barcelona’s performances in the Champions League have been below par in recent seasons. And Xavi was asked if the team had lost some prestige in Europe because of that, to which he responded:

“I don’t have the feeling that we have lost prestige, when I went to Bayern or Inter I noticed that they had respect for us. We have to win more, yes, but last year we won the league. We have to take a step forward in this competition that we haven’t won since 2015.”

On the options he has at right-back, he said: “Nothing changes, we did it with Koundé, Sergi Roberto, Araujo… nothing changes, the system is the same, what changes is the profile and the name of the player. Cancelo gives us a lot of variables”.

Already making a difference. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

On Joao Cancelo’s fellow new arrival Joao Felix, the manager said: “As a coach, if there is no spirit, there is no place in the team. If you don’t have the right attitude, you can’t be at Barcelona. Joao’s attitude is like everyone else’s, positive and willing to work and help.”

Xavi also provided an update on the impending contract renewals of Lamine Yamal and Alejandro Balde, saying: “As far as I know they are on the right track and there will be news soon.”

The manager then went on to insist that if the team performs at the level of Saturday, Barcelona can go far in the Champions League, saying:

“Hopefully we can reach the turning point and give our best version of ourselves. If we play at the level of Saturday in Europe it will give us enough to compete. At the level of the Super Cup against Madrid last year, too. We have to show consistency in our level of play.”

“Seeing the joy on the faces of the players, the word I see in the team is excitement. A lot of enthusiasm and a lot of desire and hopefully we can take the final step,” he added.

The manager admitted that the rich history of the club in the Champions League, especially during the phase between 2006 and 2015, meant that the bar has been set much higher and the demands are much greater for the team.

“There are high standards and the bar is very high. It is the consequence of the Barça of recent years, of our time as a footballer where we won four Champions League titles from 2006 to 2015,” he said.

“We like challenges but the demands of Barça are brutal, it’s the consequence of inheriting a brilliant period, the best in the history of this club.”

Source: Mundo Deportivo

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