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Xavi talks Lamine, Ferran, Lewandowski, Roque, Cubarsi, Gundogan ahead of Barcelona vs Las Palmas

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Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

After a two-week hiatus due to the international break, Barcelona return to La Liga action on Saturday night as they host Las Palmas at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys in Montjuic.

The Blaugrana go into the game on the back of a 3-0 victory over Atletico Madrid before the break. And they will be eager to build on that ahead of the huge UEFA Champions League quarterfinal tie against PSG on April 10.

At the same time, Barcelona will also want to put pressure on La Liga leaders Real Madrid, who do not play until Sunday night, with a win over Las Palmas that would cut the gap between the two teams to five points.

Xavi talks Las Palmas clash

Addressing the media ahead of the game against Garcia Pimienta’s side, Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez first of all expressed his relief that no players were injured while away on national team duty.

“The players have all come back well, luckily,” he said.

Discussing the challenge that Las Palmas will pose on Saturday, Xavi remarked: “Las Palmas don’t waste the ball, they have very technically gifted players, Barça DNA, you have to take the ball away from them. They come with little to lose, it can’t be easy for us.”

On whether it will be a dangerous match for his team, the 44-year-old said: “I’ve told them to forget about the national teams in order to continue this positive dynamic. It’s a very important match to continue fighting for the league title. We need the fans.”

On the transition from national team football back to club football for players, Xavi said: “I’m worried about the side coming back from the national team and adapting to club mode.

“We’re going to focus on La Liga, we believe we can fight for it and it’s vital to put pressure on Real Madrid.”

Team news and players

The Barcelona manager also confirmed that Marc-Andre ter Stegen is fit and available after an injury scare in training while ruling out Andreas Christensen out of the tie.

“Everyone is fine and available, with the exception of Christensen. Marc was just a scare, he’s fine,” he said.

Xavi then discussed Lamine Yamal’s performance for Spain against Brazil this week which earned him a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabeu, saying:

“I see him very calm, he is digesting everything very well, he is a mature, responsible person and aware that he has to keep working. I see him with more humility than ever. He is a footballer to mark an era and I hope we can always enjoy him at this level.”

Discussing the 16-year-old’s maturity at such a young age, Xavi added: “We have done a good job physically. On a mental level, he is a cheerful and playful guy who is enjoying himself and happy.

“The team and the group have accepted him perfectly. I don’t see any problems, it’s all positive.”

Xavi praised Lamine Yamal’s maturity. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

The manager also reserved praise for Robert Lewandowski, who returned after leading Poland to the UEFA Euro 2024 qualification.

“He is a natural leader, he works hard, he wants to improve, he is a great player for us and he is in great form. I told him that the other day (Atlético) was one of his best games at Barça. He is vital for our interests,” said Xavi.

Ilkay Gundogan has been one of Barcelona’s best players this season even though he only joined the club last summer. And the ex-Man City captain earned praise from his manager, as Xavi said:

“Gundogan’s having an excellent season. The numbers are there, but everything he gives us is invaluable. Everything he gives us, his personality and experience…. He is a totally differential and fundamental player for the team.”

On whether the midfielder will be rested tomorrow given his workload with Germany, the manager replied: “Tomorrow is not the ideal day to rest the players, he will most likely take part in the game.”

Confirming that both Gundogan and Lewandowski will be involved tomorrow, Xavi added: “I have spoken to them yesterday and today, they are both fine and ready. Robert has accumulated a lot of minutes, but he is ready to compete tomorrow.”

Xavi also confirmed Ferran Torres and Marcos Alonso are fit and ready to return, saying: “Yes, he’s [Ferran’s] good. Two games with the youth team and they’ve done well, as has Marcos Alonso. I’m happy for him.”

“Ferran can play in all five attacking positions and has played in all of them. He’s got versatility, he’s strong, he’s quick, he’s got a goal. He will continue to give us a lot,” he later added about what the forward brings to the table.

The 44-year-old then hailed Yamal and Pau Cubarsi as the future of Barcelona and Spain, but they must now take up the challenge to perform and maintain their level at the biggest stage.

“Let them keep up the level. Barça is the top step, and the Spanish national team. The challenge is to stay for many years in elite football, they have all the conditions.

“They have everything, we have two players who can mark an era in the club, even in world football,” he said.

Amid speculations that Vitor Roque might start against Las Palmas on Saturday, Xavi praised the youngster, saying:

“This week he has trained on the wing, on the inside, as a ‘9’. He’s doing very well, he has a great capacity to adapt and the most important thing is that whenever he’s been out there, he’s always contributed things.

“This is Vitor, he can bring things out for the group and the team.”

Xavi is happy with Vitor Roque. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Xavi also stressed that Roque and Lewandowski operate well together, saying: “I think the two of them have a very good understanding.

“Vitor’s minutes have almost always been played with Robert. Vitor is always playing in space and Vitor benefits from it and vice versa. They get on very well in the dressing room.”

On the possibility of Mika Faye getting minutes with the first team, Xavi said: “He’s already played in some friendly games with us, he’s a capable player, he’s aggressive, he’s quick. Good level, he can help us one day.”

On the importance of Frenkie de Jong and Pedri, he added: “When things go wrong, we miss those who are not there. When things go well, those who have not been involved are bad….

“Frenkie and Pedri have been missed even though we have had some great games. They are vital.”

During the international break, PSG manager Luis Enrique named seven Barcelona players who could be starters at the French club.

And Xavi was asked to pick PSG stars who could be starters at the Catalan club, to which he responded:

“It’s difficult, they would have competition, but a lot of competition. They are two great teams, at a very similar level. We could say the same as Luis Enrique said about us.”

On his future

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of chatter around Xavi’s future with reports suggesting that Barcelona president Joan Laporta will do everything to convince him to stay.

But the manager insisted that his mind is made up on the matter, saying: “I’ve already told them that I’m very grateful to the staff, personally to me, to the president, to Deco. I don’t think anything changes, I think what is best for the club. Nothing changes.”

Earlier this week, it also emerged that Xavi had sued two journalists over spreading false claims. Confirming the same, the Barcelona head coach said:

“Yes, it has never happened to me before. I understand the criticism, but to a certain extent. I will not tolerate lying and making things up. These are very big lies and it’s time to say enough is enough.”

Source: SPORT

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