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Xavi talks Pedri, Lewandowski, Cancelo, Gavi, Felix, Bellingham, Vinicius ahead of Barcelona vs Real Madrid

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Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

The stage is all set as Barcelona take on Real Madrid in the first El Clasico of the 2023/24 season on Saturday at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys.

With just a point separating the two teams at the top end of the table, the winner could take ownership of the La Liga title race and as such there will be a lot riding on tomorrow’s contest between the champions and the current league leaders.

Ahead of the game, the talk has been all about Barcelona and their injured players and Xavi provided an update on the conditions of his stars while also discussing several other topics in the press conference.

El Clasico rivalry

Kicking things off with what it means to face Real Madrid and to win against them, Xavi said: “For us, it means a lot, it’s the game that everyone wants to play, we arrive well, it would mean a boost in morale and confidence and we would overtake a direct rival.

“It’s an important game, a very important game, with a tremendous commitment. Everyone wants to play and wants to prove themselves.”

“The obligation is the same for both clubs. It’s 50-50. There is hardly ever a favourite. You can’t predict anything. In my experience, the Clásico is unpredictable,” he later added.

Going on to hype the rivalry between the two teams, Xavi further said: “It’s one of the biggest rivalries for sure, in Argentina they’ll tell you River-Boca, in Seville Betis-Sevilla, the Basque derby… the biggest match at club level for sure.

“Everyone will be watching. It’s the ideal stage for great things. These are the games we always dreamed of when we were kids. Let’s be brave and go for it.”

Injuries

In a big surprise, as many as five injured Barcelona players rejoined group training today, handing the Catalans a big boost.

While Xavi did not go into detail about their availability, he praised the players for their commitment and dedication, saying:

“I was surprised too, players that we were ruling out want to be there, they feel better and we’ll see how they are tomorrow, we’ll have to wait to see the list tomorrow to see how they feel after training this afternoon. It’s fantastic that they all want to be available.”

Providing an update on Robert Lewandowski, he said: “He is fine, I will not give any line-up or clues, he is fine and I will decide tomorrow.”

“If they are 100% there is no problem for them to play,” he said later about the striker and Frenkie de Jong.

Lewandowski, de Jong back in training. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

On the matter of Pedri, the Barça boss added: “Everyone has a good feeling and wants to be there, but the staff and the medical staff don’t want to force anyone. They want to be there out of commitment but we’ll see, we’ll decide tomorrow.”

When asked if the accumulation of games during his first season at Barcelona is the root cause for Pedri’s injury problems, Xavi replied:

“We will never know if it’s the accumulated games in his first year, it’s the first thing you think about but we don’t know if it’s the main reason. We will never know. Injuries are multifactorial. With Pedri, we are on schedule.

“There is no problem with Pedri or anyone else, if we have to highlight something it’s that players who had five weeks to be ready are ready in three weeks. And above all the predisposition of the players. The five players who were out are back.”

Squad and plans

One of the major dilemmas for Xavi heading into tomorrow’s game will be whether to use Ronald Araujo or Joao Cancelo at right-back to tackle the threat of Vinicius Jr.

When asked about the plan, he replied: “We have Cancelo to stop Vinicius, it’s his natural position, tomorrow we’ll see, we’ll have several alternatives, and we’ll decide.”

Addressing the questions about there being any concerns about Cancelo’s defensive lapses, he added: “His mistakes are not due to a lack of confidence, he feels important and useful and he dares, but we have to minimise the turnovers at the back, we have to dare but more up top.”

Discussing the threat posed by Vinicius and his compatriot Rodrygo Goes, the Barcelona boss claimed: “Vinicius and Rodrygo play out wide with great ease and that’s what we have to keep an eye on.”

On whether he will back the youngsters for such a big game, Xavi said: “Those who are at their best will play, those who are 100%, what we can’t do is put someone who isn’t, today they felt good and we’ll see.”

“We’ve talked about it many times, the homegrown players are a plus. Because of their involvement and commitment, because they feel the colours. Having people from La Masia is fantastic because they know about the rivalry, it’s fundamental.”

Calling on the fans to come out and support the team tomorrow at Montjuic, Xavi said: “We are expecting a full house in Montjuïc and the fans have been in a great mood since the beginning of the season.”

When asked about the importance of Oriol Romeu, Xavi insisted that the team as a whole must be alert to stop Real Madrid in transitions, saying:

“We will have a very clear way of attacking and a very clear way of defending. Madrid will drop these two or three players and we have to be very attentive. Transitions are what Madrid make the most of and we’ll have to be very attentive.”

Xavi also spoke about Joao Felix and the fact that the on-loan forward has not scored a single goal against Real Madrid so far, saying: “I didn’t know he hasn’t scored against Madrid, it’s a good moment tomorrow, for him and for everyone.”

Xavi impressed with Joao Felix’s adaptation. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

Talking about the Portuguese star’s role, he added: “Joao adapts a lot to the position we want. It’s his ideal position. I don’t see him as a pure nine or as a pure midfielder. It’s his ideal position and the one he’s most comfortable in.”

On the importance of Jude Bellingham and Joao Felix to Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively, he said: “Both are equally important. Both are and can be decisive for their team, let’s hope that tomorrow it will be more of Joao.”

On the matter of Gavi and whether he needs to curb his aggression, Xavi said: “There is no need to talk about it because he has matured a lot with us. If I remember correctly, the first year he was sent off once and this year once. He’s fundamental to the team and passionate.”

Like Ilkay Gundogan, Xavi also highlighted how it will be important to stay calm and keep one’s emotions in check during this game, saying:

“There are more nerves, more tension, you have to control your emotions, your character, the tempo of the match, be intelligent, it’s hard because your heart is hot, but your head is cool. That’s the key. There is always more emotion than usual, so that control is essential.”

Source: Mundo Deportivo

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