Barcelona will be aiming to strengthen their lead atop the La Liga table when they face off against Athletic Club away at San Mames on Sunday night.
The Blaugrana have opened up a nine-point lead at the top of the standings, but could see the gap reduce to six if Real Madrid beat Espanyol today.
With the Clasico at Camp Nou coming up next weekend, it will be imperative for the Catalan giants to ensure that they maintain their advantage at the top.
Ahead of the game against Ernesto Valverde’s side, manager Xavi Hernandez spoke to the press and addressed several topics, including the fitness situations of Pedri and Ousmane Dembele and the return of Robert Lewandowski.
On Athletic Club: “Athletic is a physically strong team that plays with its fans and its way of playing is clear. It will be a tough game. This is one of the toughest games left and we have to match their intensity.”
On next week’s El Clasico: “We are only focusing on tomorrow’s game. Then we will think about El Clasico. Tomorrow is a final and all the remaining games represent a final.”
On Robert Lewandowski: “He is doing very well. He has been training with the group since Thursday. He is feeling very well. He is an example of involvement and commitment. He always wants to play.”
“He is differential and has changed the mentality of the team. It has been very good for us that he came. He is a vital addition. And even more so in matches like this, when they will press us up top. It is essential to have Robert and he is doing well.”
On the importance of the game: “Yes, we know. Fortunately or unfortunately there is a final tomorrow. We won’t play with the handbrake on. If one of them goes down, we’ll see. We have to think about tomorrow’s game. It’s as important, if not more important, than the clásico”.
On Pedri and Ousmane Dembele: “We have to wait, they train separately and we will see their feelings.”
On his contract renewal: “We have talked, of course. We are very much in tune, but I always say the same thing: calm down and first we have to win titles.”
On Mateu Alemany: “Alemany does an extraordinary job. He’s a leader and a reliable person with experience. I’m with him almost every day and I think he likes his job.”
On Eric Garcia: “I spoke to him because he is not participating as much as he deserves. when he has played he has been at a high level. We are counting on him, he is a player of the present and future and he is a guarantee. He is an example in the dressing room.”
On the La Liga title race: “The moment of truth arrives, where the titles are decided and we have to show our faces. We have to win. Tomorrow we have a huge war on our hands. The pitch will be packed with a team that doesn’t mess around. We have to save the war and then we’ll think about the Clásico. These weeks before the break are key.”
On the Negreira scandal: “It is another issue for the president. He says that we should be here for football and be calm. And that’s what I’m doing. In the dressing room we talk about football and this is what concerns me.”
On Robert Lewandowski’s comments on style of play: “Football has changed. With Robert I talk a lot about football. I would compare him to people like Ronaldinho or Messi. He is the natural leader and everyone is growing around him.
“We talk a lot. Ten years ago it wasn’t as fast or as physical. Before football was slower and more controllable. Few teams would press you high, give you the ball. I totally agree, but this doesn’t change our idea of football.”
On Ronald Araujo’s absence: “It’s a very important loss. Even more so on these grounds, with so much intensity, high pressure, crosses down the flank. We will miss him, but we have enough alternatives so that it won’t be noticed”.
On referee Gil Manzano: “What we want is to finish the game with the three points and no penalties. But there are moments in the game that can condition you. Not because of Gil Manzano, but because of football.”
On summer reinforcements: “What the president says are positions we need. We will see how we are doing in terms of fair play.”
On Real Madrid’s reaction to the Negreira case: “I don’t know what they are looking for… I have enough to do with my players, the match, and so on. It’s not going to destabilise us. Vinicius, Modric, Courtois will do that.”
On the Williams brothers: “They destroy you because they are very fast and very good. Nico is more unbalanced but Iñaki is more vertical. They are Athletic’s constant danger and we will have to take them into account.”
On the defence: “I am reassured by the team’s performance in defence. How everyone defends. There are situations where we are excellent. We can compete on such a difficult and intense pitch.”
On the difference Lewandowski makes: “We won without Robert but we missed him a lot. He’s the first to press, when we’re pressed high he’s a perfect solution. He loses very few balls when he goes down to receive. He makes a difference in all aspects and is fundamental for us.”
On Ansu Fati: “Giving him all the confidence and he’s doing well. He is on the right track. He is doing his duties. On a group level he is doing well and on an individual level maybe he lacks the goal to give him confidence, but I give more importance to the former.”
On Marc-Andre ter Stegen: “We hope he is in the mood for revenge for himself. We remember last season’s cup game and football always gives you moments of revenge.”