'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."

Related items

  • Medvedev battles into French Open second round after Koepfer triumph Medvedev battles into French Open second round after Koepfer triumph

    Daniil Medvedev staved off a Dominik Koepfer fightback to record a battling victory in the French Open first round on Monday.

    The world number five raced out the blocks on Court Simonne-Mathieu and eventually triumphed 6-3 6-4 5-7 6-3 in Paris.

    Medvedev, a five-time major runner-up and 2021 US Open champion, broke Koepfer's first service game in the French capital with that a seeming sign of things to come.

    Though the 28-year-old dropped his serve in the first set, Medvedev had little trouble in responding with the score finely poised at 3-2 to claim first blood at Roland-Garros.

    The fifth seed has only ever gone as far as the quarter-finals, three years ago, at the French Open but showed his clinical best to snatch the second set after holding all six service games for a narrow triumph.

    World number 65 Koepfer battled back in the third but the resilient Medvedev responded by breaking his German opponent early in the fourth set, finally securing victory in just over three hours.

    Data Debrief: Medvedev gets better of Koepfer again

    Medvedev has won all four of his meetings with Koepfer, with his most recent such victory seeing him reach the second round at Roland-Garros for the third time in eight attempts.

    Since the start of the 2021 season, Medvedev is 27-1 against players ranked outside the top 50 at major events, with his only loss in that run coming against Seyboth Wild in the French Open first round last year.

    Koepfer, meanwhile, extends to 1-17 against top-10 players in his career, earning his only such victory against over Gael Monfils – then ranked ninth in the world – at the 2020 ATP Masters 1000 event in Rome.

  • Al-Nassr 4-2 Al-Ittihad: Ronaldo breaks Saudi Pro League scoring record in final-day win Al-Nassr 4-2 Al-Ittihad: Ronaldo breaks Saudi Pro League scoring record in final-day win

    Cristiano Ronaldo claimed a piece of Saudi Pro League history after scoring twice in Al-Nassr's 4-2 final-day victory over 10-man Al-Ittihad on Monday.

    The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was on target in either half at Al Awal Park, moving to 35 goals across the 2023-24 league campaign in Saudi Arabia.

    Ronaldo opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time after receiving a long ball from Mohammed Al-Fatil, before doubling his tally – and Al-Nassr's lead – with a header from Marcelo Brozovic's corner.

    That second finish after Suwailem Al Manhali was dismissed for the visitors saw Ronaldo eclipse Abderrazak Hamdallah's 34-goal tally – in the 2018-19 season – for the most strikes in a single campaign.

    Abdulrahman Ghareeb then added another from the penalty spot before Meshari Al Nemer made sure of three points after late goals from Farhah Al Shamrani and Fabinho had pulled Al-Ittihad back into contention.

    Having already been unable to stop Al-Hilal secure the title, Al-Nassr finish second in the table – ending on 82 points after 26 wins from the 34-match campaign.

    Data Debrief: Al-Nassr dominance pays off

    Much will be made of the record-breaking Ronaldo, who has scored 50 goals in as many games across all competitions this season.

    Yet Al-Nassr were dominant from the off in this one, mustering nine shots on target to Al-Ittihad's three, while accumulating 2.73 expected goals (xG) – far superior to the visitors' 1.43 xG.

  • Sakkari crashes out in French Open first round after Gracheva upset Sakkari crashes out in French Open first round after Gracheva upset

    Varvara Gracheva produced an eye-catching upset after sending Maria Sakkari crashing out of the French Open on Monday.

    World number 88 Gracheva battled to a 3-6 6-4 6-3 victory on Court Simonne-Mathieu, claiming a notable Roland-Garros scalp in the first round.

    Gracheva clinched five of six break points in an impressive fightback after falling a set down in Paris to sixth seed Sakkari.

    Her reward will be a second-round meeting with Bernarda Pera, who overcame Japan's Nao Hibino in straight sets on the same day.

    Data Debrief: Gracheva earns top-10 scalp

    Gracheva will be bidding to make the third round in Paris for the third time in her career after Sakkari became the first big-name exit in the women's draw.

    This victory against world number eight Sakkari marked Gracheva's fourth top-10 win in her career, and second win against such opponents in major events.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.