Barcelona will be looking for their second win of the 2023/24 season when they lock horns with Villarreal away at El Madrigal on Sunday evening.
The Catalan giants picked up their first victory of the new campaign last weekend as they defeated Cadiz 2-0, courtesy of goals from Pedri and Ferran Torres.
With Real Madrid already five points clear at the top, Xavi Hernandez & co. are aware that they must get a victory and not let the gap build up early into the season.
But, Barcelona will go into the game without key man Pedri, who sustained an injury earlier this week while Ronald Araujo also remains unavailable.
Xavi discussed these aspects in his press conference today, which began with the Barcelona manager condemning the actions of RFEF President Luis Rubiales and giving his support to Jenni Hermoso.
Luis Rubiales controversy
“Firstly, I would like to give my unconditional support to Jenni and the players of women’s football. Secondly, I want to condemn the behaviour of the president of the Federation, which I find unacceptable,” he said.
“And thirdly, I am sorry that there is no talk of the historic milestone of the World Cup and that there is talk of this intolerable behaviour.”
There were more questions from the press about the Rubiales case, with Xavi being asked on his opinion about the club’s statement, to which he said: “I have been very clear, we have to take a stand for them and I have said so publicly. The club has made its statement.”
When asked about what the men’s team thought about the entire episode, he added: “Everyone is free to express their opinion.”
When he was asked one more question about the same, Xavi expressed his dismay that the controversy had taken the spotlight away from the Spanish Women’s national team’s World Cup triumph.
“That’s seven questions about this. The pity is that we don’t talk about Alexia, Aitana, Cata Coll or their hurdles to becoming world champions,” he said.
“I like to talk about football and how well they have done. They have reached the final, suffering in the semi-final. It’s a shame to talk only about that one conduct. Let’s value the players.”
Villarreal clash and team news
Looking forward to the game against Villarreal and the challenges it poses, Xavi said: “Setién and Villarreal have a similar idea to ours. They are a very well-equipped team in midfield, they can dominate the game.
“We will have to take the ball away from them, put pressure on their defensive line, press in the opposition half…. It will be key to have the ball.”
One of the main cogs in the team, Pedri, will be unavailable for tomorrow’s contest. The 20-year-old has suffered a series of injuries in his young career and that is causing some concerns at Barcelona.
Addressing the same, Xavi said: “The injury is similar to the one he had. We’ll see how he feels when he comes back. He’s a player who takes care of himself, he’s done extraordinary work to gain muscle mass, but there are many variables: the games, the heat…
“What we try to do is prevent injuries and try to stop them from recurring. But it’s part of the game and sports in general.”
Xavi then talked about his personal situation at the club amid reports of a contract renewal, saying: “I’m calm, happy, I’m at the club I love. As I have always said, it is a privilege to be here. In my case, it doesn’t change anything.”
On his renewal, specifically, he added: “It is still ten out of ten. There is no problem at all. Everything is calm, happy, and in perfect harmony with the sports area and the president. The staff are delighted to work here and there won’t be any problems.”
Two games into the season, Robert Lewandowski is yet to score a goal and has looked scratchy on both occasions. But his manager is not worried about the slow start, as he said:
“I’m calm, he’s well and willing to contribute in terms of goals, but he brings us other things. He’s not as effective as at other times, but he’ll score. I’m happy, he looks happy and content.”
The Barcelona head coach also had some words of appreciation for Ez Abde, as he said: “I’m very happy with him, I like him a lot, as a professional and as a person. I count on him. He can help us a lot during the season.”
But when asked if the 21-year-old is ready for a starting berth, Xavi replied: “The players have to understand that it doesn’t matter so much to be a starter or a substitute. The other day, we won largely because of the five who came on in the second half.”
Addressing the situation regarding Barcelona’s pursuit of a new right-back, i.e., Joao Cancelo, and the hold-up in the deal, Xavi said:
“We’ll see, depending on fair play as always. Financially we are in the situation we are in, unfortunately. We are open to the market. The sporting management knows perfectly well what we need.”
Last night reports emerged claiming that Alejandro Balde could miss the Villarreal clash due to an ankle discomfort. But, Xavi allayed those fears by saying: “He’s available, it’s a knock, there’s no injury.”
Xavi has not entirely been pleased with the match officials so far this season and suggested that just like dressing room conversations at half-time being made accessible to public, the referees’ conversations should be too.
“Since we made the dressing room and the hydration break accessible, why don’t we disclose the referees’ conversations? Then we will see that they really whistle what they see. I would like to listen to the referees as well,” he said.
The Barcelona manager also commented on the form of Ferran Torres, who has been sharp since pre-season, saying:
“He is an example of how to work, how to train. Proof is the last match. And he has to be ready to be at the service of the team.”
As to whether Jules Kounde could feature at right-back again, he answered: “We already spoke at the end of last season. And we were both very clear. The player must be where the team needs him. He is a natural leader, he can adapt and he is always a guarantee. He has been a spectacular signing.”
Source: Mundo Deportivo