Xavi will have a chance to redeem himself after back-to-back relegations to the Europa League in the last two seasons as Barcelona have been drawn up against Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Royal Antwerp in the 2023/24 Champions League group stages.
After comfortably beating Antwerp 5-0 in the first game, they will travel to Portugal tomorrow for arguably the toughest game of the group as they lock horns against Porto.
Ahead of the game, Xavi addressed the media as part of his pre-game press conference.
“The team taking a step forward in Europe? We have many players who are a year older, with more experience, who have already won titles. We have strengthened ourselves well and in this competition we hope to be at the level that Barça requires,” he said, as relayed by Mundo Deportivo.
“Is this the most important game of the group stage? I don’t think about being 1st or 2nd. I think about going through and the three points. You don’t have to look further. It’s the most important because it’s the immediate one. Tough, tough opponent, historic, in a spectacular stadium.”
Xavi reaches an incredible milestone tomorrow, becoming the 11th coach ever in Barcelona history to have coached 100 games for the club. He was asked to comment on the same and his feelings ahead of the achievement.
“Reaching 100 games as Barça coach? I have learned not to be too euphoric when things are going well and vice-versa. I have to have emotional stability. This is football, and you can win or lose, but with a lot of competitiveness.”
The squad: Fermin, Lewandowski, Yamal and others
Fermin Lopez came on against Sevilla on the weekend to replace the injured Raphinha, and took fans by surprise because of how easily he fit into the team.
Xavi complimented him, “Fermin López? He is part of the first team, he has earned it, he is dynamic, I like him a lot and he is a surprise for everyone. I think he can help us a lot, he has a lot of level and if he believes it he can be a Barça player for many years. He is ready.”
As far as Robert Lewandowski is concerned, the veteran has been blowing hot and cold through the season, but Xavi is not particularly worried about him, and said, “Lewandowski? I talk to him a lot. He’s an involved player, he tells me what he sees…”
The former Barcelona midfielder believes that his side now has a healthy mix of seasoned veterans and energetic youth to balance it out as compared to the last few seasons because of which the Catalans seemed to have struggled.
“Our team now consists of experienced footballers, like Cancelo, Ter Stegen or Lewandowski, and young players, Gavi, Balde, Lamine, Fermín… That makes the team flow. The mix of both things will surely do well for us.”
“I hope Lamine marks an era for Barça, but we are not doing him a favor by talking about that and comparisons with Messi,” he added.
Joao Felix spoke to the media before Xavi as part of the pre-game pressers. As such, the coach was naturally asked about him, to which he replied:
“João Félix? The summary is that he is happy, very happy, he benefits from a position where he can enhance his talent, he looks out for the team, and all his talent comes out. He is supportive, generous and that is why things are working out for him.”
Barcelona will be facing off against a familiar face tomorrow in Nico Gonzalez, who is on loan at Porto.
“Nico? We take him into account, he still has to train, he needs minutes and we believed that his arrival at Porto could benefit him. Although there is a lot of competition at Porto, I think he has the level to play,” Xavi commented on him.
Barcelona possible tactics vs Porto
Porto’s coach, Sergio Conceicao, suggested that Porto could start with five defenders tomorrow to combat Barcelona’s attack. Xavi believes his team his ready to deal with it.
“We are ready if Porto plays with 5 defenders tomorrow.”
“Playing with 4 midfielders? Last year it gave us stability and confidence and we can see it again this season, we didn’t discover anything… You can see a team with 4 midfielders at any time,” he concluded.