'The most difficult club in the world' – Xavi tells LaLiga leaders Barcelona to ignore Clasico critics

By Sports Desk March 04, 2023

Xavi described Barcelona as "the most difficult club in the world" after his team came in for criticism even after beating Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The Copa del Rey semi-final win by Barcelona on Thursday handed Xavi's side a 1-0 advantage to take into the second leg, with Madrid unable to manage a shot on target.

Now LaLiga leaders Barcelona face Valencia on Sunday, when they will have a chance to, perhaps only briefly, go 10 points clear of second-placed Madrid.

Barcelona had only 35 per cent of possession against Madrid but did enough, with Eder Militao's own goal decisive. It was their lowest share of possession in any game since the 2013-14 season.

"I see that there has been a stir," Xavi said. "Barca is the most difficult club in the world. You win 1-0 in Madrid, and it is not enough. The style is discussed. If it had been the other way around it would be a national holiday.

"Madrid are Champions League and LaLiga champions. When they squeeze you, it's very difficult. Talking about possession when they go man to man is absurd.

"We weren't good with the ball, we have to improve, but without the ball we were extraordinary. We don't want 36 per cent possession, but this is football and there is a rival.

"There is always noise at Barca. We have to manage the noise. We did a lot of things well and there are others to improve. There are two titles at stake, and this is the moment of truth."

 

According to Xavi, the fact Barcelona only have two titles to go for could be helpful, after their elimination from the Europa League by Manchester United.

Madrid are also still hunting a Champions League title defence, with one foot in the quarter-finals after battering Liverpool 5-2 at Anfield in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

"We will have more time, but we would like to be alive in Europe," Xavi said. "We will have more time to rest and recover better, that is a certain advantage."

Head coach Xavi will be without several important players on Sunday, with midfielder Pedri and striker Robert Lewandowski among them, both sidelined by hamstring injuries, while Gavi is suspended.

Barcelona have won 87 per cent of their LaLiga games when Pedri has played (G31 W27 D3 L1) during Xavi's time at the helm, but that dips to just 50 per cent when he has been absent (G18 W9 D4 L5).

Pedri also missed last weekend's 1-0 loss to Almeria, which was just a second league loss of the campaign for Barcelona, who have not lost successive games in LaLiga since October 2021, when Ronald Koeman was boss.

Barcelona play in the afternoon in Spain on Sunday, with Madrid not in action against Real Betis until the evening.

A win for Barcelona would be a fifth in a row against Valencia on league duty, matching their longest streak of victories against Los Che, achieved twice before.

"It's a golden opportunity to get 10 points ahead, waiting for what Madrid do," Xavi said. "We failed against Almeria, and we can't make any more mistakes."

Another man they must cope without at pitch level is Xavi himself, as the coach serves a one-match touchline ban for an accumulation of yellow cards.

"I suppose I'll be in a box, where the game and the spaces can be seen better," said Xavi. "It doesn't change anything. The only thing is that I won't be able to be on the bench."

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