Xavi believes Sunday's Catalan derby with Espanyol will act as a "litmus test" to determine just how much Barcelona have improved.

Barca produced arguably their finest display yet since Xavi replaced Ronald Koeman three months ago in last week's 4-2 win against Atletico Madrid.

That followed a 1-0 win over Granada, meaning the Blaugrana have won back-to-back LaLiga games for just the second time this season ahead of their trip to Espanyol.

However, not since a run of six between February and April last year have they won three games on the spin in the Spanish top flight.

Barcelona make the short trip to RCDE Stadium back in the top four and now full of confidence on the back of a successful January transfer window.

But Xavi insists his side have not fully turned a corner yet, with wins in successive away games against Espanyol and Valencia the target to keep their momentum going.

"Sunday's match is another final for us," he said at a pre-match news conference. "It's a litmus test and it will be a very difficult game, very intense. They will want revenge.

"We're not ruling out any targets. Being 15 points behind the leaders, with a match in hand, shows how difficult it can be. It is difficult but we do not rule anything out. 

"The next few games will tell. We need several wins in a row and have to be consistent, while hoping those in front of us falter. We're fourth and we want to climb further."

 

Memphis Depay's penalty early in the second half gave Barcelona a 1-0 win over Espanyol in Xavi's first game in charge on November 20.

Barca have now gone 23 LaLiga games without defeat against their city rivals and could record the best unbeaten run by any team in any type of derby in the competition's history.

That is a record they jointly hold with Real Madrid, who also went 23 matches without losing against Atletico Madrid between 2000 and 2013.

The Blaugrana have also not lost any of their past 13 away games against Espanyol in LaLiga (W7 D6), including their 11 matches at RCDE Stadium.

But Xavi is taking nothing for granted against Espanyol, who are winless in four in the league and down in 13th place.

"Things have changed since the last meeting," he said. "Tomorrow we face a tough and intense rival. This is one of the best Espanyol sides in recent years.

"It will be a similar game to the one at Camp Nou, but we've changed since then. We didn't have time to prepare for that game, but now we have.

"We've got to consolidate the very good things we did against Atletico. We're training well but everything depends on the results. We are on the right track."

The impact of Barcelona's teenage sensation Gavi this season has been "marvellous", according to head coach Xavi.

Since making his senior debut against Getafe in August, the 17-year-old midfielder has played 26 appearances for the Blaugrana across all competitions – matching Xavi's tally during his maiden campaign at Camp Nou in 1998-99.

Gavi will surpass that should he appear when Barca make the short trip to Espanyol on Sunday, with the visitors aiming to consolidate their top-four status in LaLiga.

The academy graduate's performances in the middle of the park have also culminated in a senior international call-up, making his Spain debut in the Nations League victory over Italy in October.

And while Xavi insisted there is still room for improvement, he has been delighted with the strides the youngster has taken.

 

"He's very good at recovering possession, taking the ball away from the opponents. He's very competitive and wins the right duels," the head coach said.

"He understands the high press very well; he's excellent at that. He turns very well when we want to play in between the lines.

"But he needs to organise himself, he needs to find the right resources in the right moments – knowing when to attack the space better, when to let the wingers run or when to pass it. These are tactical situations where he needs to improve.

"His production is spectacular. He's an incredible talent. At 17 years of age, to already have such an impact and play with the national side is marvellous."

Gavi has won 100 duels in LaLiga this season – a tally only bettered by Sergio Busquets (129) among Barcelona players.

Meanwhile, Busquets (168) and Frenkie de Jong (87) are the only midfielders to have won more possession more times in the Spanish top-flight this term than Gavi (63).

Xavi felt Barcelona were "perfect" before Dani Alves' sending off in Sunday's 4-2 defeat of Atletico Madrid.

The Blaugrana fell behind early on to Yannick Carrasco's well-worked opener, but the home side quickly hit back and soon found themselves 2-1 up.

Jordi Alba's spectacular sliced volley levelled it up, before Gavi headed in debutant Adama Traore's cross – Ronald Araujo made it 3-1 just before the break, and Alves drilled home early in the second half.

Barca looked to be cruising to an emphatic win, though Luis Suarez scored against his former club and then Alves was shown a straight red for scraping his studs down the calf of Carrasco to become the first player to score and get sent off for the club in a single LaLiga game since at least 2004-05.

There was certainly a degree of fortune to Barca's victory, with their expected goals (xG) of 0.6 only half that of Atletico's 1.2.

 

Similarly, their difference between goals and xG was the highest in a LaLiga game this term, highlighting just how impressive some of Barca's finishes were.

Nevertheless, Xavi was delighted with his team's showing prior to Alves' red, with the win taking Barca above Atletico and into fourth.

"Before Alves was sent off, the game was perfect," he said. "We had to go back a bit [after the red], but the first 60 minutes represents the Barca that we all love.

"When we had 11 men, we were very good. We had worked with the 3-4-3 and the 3-5-2.

"We showed solidarity after the expulsion, we defended the area well and we haven't suffered too much."

While victory puts Barca fourth and two points clear of Atletico, Xavi is not getting ahead of himself.

"You have to be humble," he added. "It's an important victory, against the champions. We fell behind and were then patient.

"I think we've played 60 very good minutes, but we have to continue."

Xavi hopes Atletico Madrid's Luis Suarez receives a standing ovation from Barcelona's supporters on Sunday, as he ranked the Uruguayan alongside Samuel Eto'o as "the best modern-day Barca centre forward".

Suarez left Barca – in frustrating circumstances for the former Liverpool star and his close friend Lionel Messi – in 2020, with then-coach Ronald Koeman having deemed him surplus to requirements.

Barca's decision backfired as Suarez went on to propel Atleti to their second LaLiga title under Diego Simeone, scoring 21 top-flight goals last season.

The 35-year-old scored 198 goals for Barca between 2014 and 2020, netting once every 120 minutes, and said he was "disrespected" by the club when they decided to ship him out.

Xavi played alongside Suarez in his first season at Camp Nou, and believes the forward must be categorised as a modern-day great at Barca.

"I think he deserves a standing ovation," Xavi said of Suarez in a news conference previewing Sunday's clash with Atleti.

"The best modern-day Barca centre forward, with Eto'o. He has been great. You have to welcome him with honour. 

"The pity is that he couldn't leave with a great tribute because of COVID."

 

Antoine Griezmann could well partner Suarez up top, with the France attacker returning to his parent club. 

Griezmann has played more LaLiga games for Atleti against Barcelona without scoring than any other opponent (11).

Xavi, meanwhile, is facing Atleti for the first time as a coach. As a player, he lost none of his last eight appearances against Los Rojiblancos in the competition (W6 D2).

Barca would move above Atleti should they win, though if Atleti triumph, Diego Simeone will surpass Slovakian Ferdinand Daucik (234) for the most LaLiga victories by a non-Spanish manager in the competition's history.

Asked for his thoughts on Simeone's style of play, Xavi said: "It wouldn't be Barca's style, it wouldn't fit in, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have merit and isn't competitive. 

"People wouldn't understand if we were defensive. They win and it's legal to play like that, but it's not my style. It doesn't mean I don't admire him. Cholo is a great coach, it's not a criticism."

Barca are well adrift of LaLiga leaders Real Madrid, and Xavi understands that his priority is securing Champions League qualification.

"At the moment I want to enter the Champions League and then I don't rule anything out knowing the difficulty," he said. "We are 15 points down with one game in hand. We have to be realists."

Xavi believes Ousmane Dembele can still be a useful player for Barcelona for the remainder of the season, despite the winger's refusal to agree a new deal.

Barca insisted last month that Dembele would be sold before the transfer window's deadline after the 24-year-old turned down the club's latest contract offer.

Dembele, signed from Borussia Dortmund for an initial €105million in 2017 following Neymar's departure to Paris Saint-Germain, has struggled with injuries since his move to Camp Nou.

He has played just six times in LaLiga this season and in just over half of Barca's league games since his arrival four-and-a-half years ago.

Dembele has managed 31 goals and 22 assists in 129 appearances since his debut in September 2017, meaning he has been directly involved in 0.63 goals per 90 minutes. That puts him on a par with Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial among wingers from Europe's top five leagues, and just behind Liverpool star Sadio Mane (0.64).

In his sole season at Dortmund, Dembele created 100 chances in all competitions, scoring 10 goals.

 

Xavi made it clear upon his arrival as coach last year that he saw Dembele as a key player for the future of the club, but the France international is now into the last five months of his deal.

PSG seemed set to sign him late in the January window, but that move did not go ahead, while there is also rumoured interest from the Premier League.

However, Barca and Dembele have now decided to put their differences to one side and Xavi insisted it would be a foolish move to omit him from the squad.

"Well, we haven't found a solution for Dembele," he told a news conference ahead of Sunday's clash with reigning LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid, for which Dembele was included in the squad alongside new arrivals Adama Traore and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

"The situation is as it was a month ago, he hasn't signed a contract. We had a meeting with the president. We have all met and we have decided that he is part of the squad. We cannot shoot ourselves in the foot.

"He's a player for Barca. We have to use him, he can help us, he has been a good professional when he has been involved or not, so that's the club’s decision. We will use him. I think he can be useful, he's part of the team."

Asked if he is concerned about the reaction of the fans to Dembele, Xavi said: "I understand the fans if they are hurt, but we have to close ranks for the good of the team. He is training well.

"He is a club player and his commitment is clear. His commitment is impeccable."

Another Barca player in talks over a renewal is centre-back Ronald Araujo, and Xavi is eager to tie the 22-year-old down.

"Yes, it is a priority. It is a reality and it gives us a lot," he said. "A very popular person in the locker room. It is a priority operation."

Xavi also confirmed that both Traore, re-signed on loan from Wolves, and Aubameyang, who has joined essentially as a free agent after cutting ties with Arsenal, are in contention to face Atleti.

"Both of them have trained well. Probably Adama is in a better shape. Auba has had COVID-19, so he was working individually [before leaving Arsenal], so we will decide," Xavi said.

"They are excited and we also want to see them in the squad. Two great signings.

"We have reinforced ourselves well and let's see how far we get. There is a good atmosphere and a good group."

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has said it is "amazing" to have Xavi as a coach after completing his move to Barcelona.

Aubameyang joined the LaLiga giants after being released from his contract with Arsenal, agreeing a contract until June 2025 with an option to cut ties earlier, in June 2023. It includes a buy-out clause of €100million.

The 32-year-old fell out with previous manager, Mikel Arteta, resulting in him losing the captaincy at the Emirates Stadium and being left out of recent squads.

Speaking to the club's official social media, Aubameyang spoke of his admiration for Xavi, a Barca legend and World Cup winner, saying: "I think that's amazing to have [Xavi] as a coach. He has been a fantastic player that everyone knows, and I'm sure that as a coach he will bring us something that we will learn, definitely."

The Gabon international also spoke of his pride in making the move to the Blaugrana, explaining that his main goal is to help them get back into the Champions League.

"I am very proud [to be here], especially because my family is Spanish as well from my mother's side so I'm just really proud and happy to be here," he said.

"My main goal is to help the team and to give everything I can to bring the team back in the Champions League. I am just happy to be here and I will try to give everything."

Another January signing was La Masia graduate Adama Traore, who joined on loan from Wolves.

However, at a media conference to present the winger, it was another wide forward already at the club who stole the headlines as for the second day in a row, Barca president Joan Laporta openly criticised Ousmane Dembele for not agreeing to a January move away from Camp Nou.

The club had been hoping to ship the France international out, with Paris Saint-Germain reportedly agreeing terms with Dembele over the weekend, but a move did not materialise.

Barca are still struggling financially as the club attempts to bounce back from previous years of mismanagement, and on Tuesday at another news conference to reveal details of the forensic review into financial irregularities by the previous regime, Laporta responded to questions on Dembele, saying he could not understand why the player had not left in January.

He followed this up with more comments on Wednesday, telling reporters: "Our [contract] offer [to Dembele] expired on December 20 and after that, there was no other proposal. We saw a lack of interest in renewing and accepting our offer which was really good. We tried to fix things but there were no options available."

Dembele, who played with Aubameyang at Borussia Dortmund, is out of contract in the summer, and Laporta has said it will be up to Xavi whether he plays for the club again, while also indicating his belief that the Frenchman - who has suffered numerous injuries since arriving in Spain - has been disappointing since his big money move in 2017.

"We have a player with a contract that expires in June and the player is at the disposal of the coach, so the coach is the one who will decide whether he plays or not," he added. "But Xavi is just as surprised as all of us that Dembele has not renewed his contract.

"We invested a lot of money and we wanted to see that investment on the ground more often, but we came out a little disappointed."

Jordi Alba feels "singled out" at Barcelona and says he is "killed" by his critics every time he has a bad performance.

The Spain international is approaching a decade at Camp Nou and remains a regular for Barca, who have endured another difficult campaign.

He has featured 408 times for the Catalan giants in all competitions since his debut in August 2012 and has helped the club to 15 trophies.

But Alba has come in for criticism of late, with Barca losing to Real Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals before exiting the Copa del Rey to Athletic Bilbao. 

After impressing in Sunday's 1-0 win over Deportivo Alaves, a game in which he led the way for touches (112) and fouls won (four), Alba expressed his frustration.

"I have felt singled out for many years, it is not the first time it has happened to me," he told Movistar+. "I accept the criticism that there is in this circus. Criticism will always be there, I have assumed it.

"If I play a good game they won't talk about me, if I don't play well like the other day [against Athletic], I admit it, they will kill me. I have accepted it.

"I don't care because I have respect from my team-mates and from all the coaching staff I've had.

"It seems that there are only 'veterans' in Barcelona. There has been talk of veterans for four or five years, and I was 28, damn it. But I've always accepted it."

 

Alba has started 23 games under Ronald Koeman and successor Xavi this season – only Marc-Andre ter Stegen (27) and Sergio Busquets (29) have done so more times.

No defender has more assists than Alba's four in LaLiga this term, while his 1.62 chances created per 90 minutes is the fourth-best among those to have played more than once.

Responding to Alba's comments following the win over Alaves, Xavi praised the 32-year-old for learning to live with the weight that comes with playing for Barcelona.

"Alba was criticised and he played a great game," Xavi said at his post-match news conference. "At Barca, the shirt is 20 kilos more than at another club."

Barcelona head coach Xavi says Sunday's 1-0 win at Alaves shows that there is life in the Blaugrana yet.

Frenkie de Jong netted an 88th-minute winner to clinch the points for Xavi's side, who move up to fifth in LaLiga, one point behind fourth-placed Atletico Madrid.

Barcelona bossed possession (76-24 percent) and generated 10-6 shots with 4-2 on target, getting their just reward with the Dutchman's late goal.

"It cost us a lot, but they were three crucial points and the team needed and deserved them," Xavi told reporters. "The sun has risen again, this victory shows that there is life."

He added: "It means a lot of confidence, continuing to believe in what we do."

Barcelona will enjoy a break before their next league game against Spanish champions Atletico Madrid on Sunday 6 February.

“We are in the fight, one point away from the Champions League," Xavi said. "These days are going to come in handy. They will come in very handy."

The Barcelona boss was also complimentary towards teenager Pedri, who has only just returned to the fold following a thigh injury. Pedri made his first LaLiga start since August.

"He’s a marvellous little player, and at 19, to do everything well is spectacular," Xavi said.

"How he looks in possession, how he perceives the game, he is excellent and the model player. He can lead by character, quality, ambition, it’s great to have him back in the team."

Xavi has told Ousmane Dembele to stop prevaricating and either sign a new Barcelona deal or find another club by the end of January.

According to Xavi, there is "no alternative" for the French forward, who has entered the final six months of his contract at Camp Nou.

Dembele has struggled since joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 for an initial €105million, and this month's transfer window could be a final chance for the club to recoup some of that outlay.

Barcelona director of football Mateu Alemany told Dembele this week he must leave "immediately", which prompted the 24-year-old to issue an angry riposte on social media.

"I am not a man who cheats and even less a man who has a habit of giving in to blackmail," Dembele wrote.

Barcelona are fed up and want a resolution one way or the other, with Xavi seemingly willing to keep Dembele and let this storm pass if he agrees to extend his contract before the end of the month.

"Ousmane's situation hasn't changed," said Xavi on Saturday. "He has to decide. He is training well, but he knows his situation perfectly. There is no more debate, I think I was clear. It depends on him now. There are still days left and there is no alternative."

 

The situation is one that Barcelona could do without as they reel from a Copa del Rey exit at Athletic Bilbao's hands, and the crushing blow of losing teenage forward Ansu Fati yet again to a hamstring injury.

Fati could be out of action for months after the substitute was substituted during the Bilbao game, seemingly in tears as he left the pitch.

Xavi said the plan, agreed with club doctor Ricard Pruna, was for Fati to play for half an hour, so when the cup game went to extra time it conflicted with Barca's intentions.

Fati, who entered the game just after the hour mark, came off injured in the 96th minute, an apparent recurrence of the problem that had recently kept him out for two months.

"Ansu is very affected," said Xavi.

On Monday, a meeting will take place to decide on the next course of action, with Barca reportedly keen for Fati to go down the route of surgery.

"It is a relapse," Xavi said. "Pruna told me that he was to play for half an hour and extra time disrupted our plans. We are going to make a specific plan for him. On Monday we will have a meeting to decide what to do. 

"I'm not a doctor, but we have to mentally allow him to recover. [We need to] let him forget about the injuries and make a specific plan. We have lost an impressive footballer and it affects us all, but he is the main victim. We must do an exhaustive follow-up so that he does not injure himself more.

"It's a shame. We are sad because we have tried to take good care of him and he has been injured again. This is part of football. We are suffering major setbacks and this is very serious."

Fati previously spent 10 months on the sidelines due to a serious knee injury, resuming his Barcelona career in September this season.

Despite his limited action, Fati is Barcelona's second-highest scorer in 2021-22 with five goals. They have come in just 456 minutes of on-pitch action, with Fati out-performing his expected goals (xG) score of 1.92.

On Sunday, Barca travel to face Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga, with Fati definitively ruled out and Dembele also expected to be sidelined by the club.

Alaves have not won any of their last 10 LaLiga games against Barcelona (D2 L8), conceding 3.1 goals on average in these matches.

Barcelona have avoided defeat in their last seven away LaLiga games against Alaves (W4 D3), keeping a clean sheet in six of them. This is their longest unbeaten run at Mendizorrotza in the top flight, but this season's Barcelona are a different proposition, with the loss of Lionel Messi and to a lesser extent Antoine Griezmann meaning they lack presence on the road.

Indeed, Barcelona have won only two of their last 10 away games in LaLiga (D6 L2), beating Villarreal in November and Mallorca earlier this month. That follows a run of 12 wins from their previous 14 away games in the competition (D1 L1).

The likes of Sergio Busquets have come in for flak from supporters of the club, and Xavi says the veteran members of the team must justify their selection.

"The shots go towards the sacred cows, and they have to understand it," Xavi said. "The commitment of the veterans is spectacular, unquestionable, but now it depends on the performance. Until recently we didn't have many alternatives."

The former Al Sadd coach said he remains "optimistic" about Barcelona's prospects, and said there could be additions to his squad before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

"We are working on it, in several areas," he said.

Xavi admitted his Barcelona team failed to match the intensity of Athletic Bilbao as they tumbled out of the Copa del Rey at the last-16 stage, another blow in a dismal season.

Barcelona may yet claw their way into the Champions League places in LaLiga, but their trophy pursuit looks doomed to failure. Beaten by Real Madrid last week in the Supercopa semi-finals, a 3-2 defeat after extra time against Athletic on Thursday was another bitter pill for head coach Xavi and his players.

Add in the blow of losing substitute Ansu Fati to what Barcelona described as "a femoral biceps injury in his left thigh", and it was a calamitous night at San Mames for the visitors.

Barca are out of the LaLiga title reckoning, and Europa League play-off opponents Napoli will surely fancy their chances of taking the Blaugrana's scalp on this latest evidence.

The defeat in Bilbao, where home captain Iker Muniain capped an inspiring performance with two goals, means Barcelona have failed to reach at least the quarter-final stage of the Copa del Rey for the first time since 2009-10.

This is also the first season since 2003-04, when they were in the UEFA Cup, that Barcelona have not featured in the Champions League knockout rounds. A group-stage exit saw to that.

Barcelona got what they deserved in Bilbao. The expected goals (xG) calculation, based on each team's chances, showed the gulf between these sides was wider than the final scoreline.

Athletic had an xG of 3.33, while Barcelona's was a miniscule 0.36. The home side had 19 shots to just seven by Xavi's team, and the 66.7 per cent of possession that Barcelona enjoyed was mostly lacking in end product.

Success has flooded into the Catalan giants in recent years, and Barcelona beat Athletic 4-0 in the Copa final only last April. Lionel Messi scored twice in that game, and Antoine Griezmann also netted. Both have now long since departed.

"In summary, I think Athletic's intensity surpassed ours," said Xavi. "In duels, in second balls. They lived each ball as if it were their last."

Athletic led through Muniain and Inigo Martinez, but Ferran Torres, with his first Barcelona goal, and Pedri, deep into stoppage time, replied for Barcelona.

A handball by Jordi Alba was punished by Muniain from the penalty spot near the end of the first half of extra time, and this time Athletic did not relinquish their lead.

"With Pedri's goal it seemed like it was our moment," Xavi said, speaking at a post-match news conference.

Muniain's penalty told the coach different, however.

"It seems that when things are heads or tails, we always get tails. We have to change the dynamic," Xavi added.

 

He was not minded to contest the penalty decision after the final whistle. Alba was struck on the arm by Nico Williams' cross, and with VAR guidance it was an obvious spot-kick.

Former Al Sadd boss Xavi, who took over the Barcelona top job in November, said his team would "fight" for their remaining objectives.

It remains to be seen when Fati is seen again in action. He looked distressed, tearful, on leaving the pitch barely half an hour after entering the action. That setback compounded the misery of a regrettable evening.

Speaking to Barca TV, Xavi said: "We need to continue believing in this project, continue in LaLiga and continue in the Europa League. This is the way, continue to keep going and working hard."

Ousmane Dembele has reacted with fury after Barcelona director of football Mateu Alemany ordered the winger to find a new club "immediately".

French winger Dembele has struggled at Camp Nou since joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 for an initial €105million.

A string of injury setbacks have hampered his progress, although Barca head coach Xavi recently claimed Dembele could become the "best in the world" in his position.

Dembele's contract runs until the end of the season, meaning this month's transfer window could be the last opportunity for the club to get back any money on their investment.

Barcelona do not want to lose such an expensive signing on a free transfer, and to that end they have been looking to extend his deal, but Alemany said all offers to Dembele "have been continuously rejected by his agents".

Alemany added, speaking to Barca TV on Thursday: "It seems obvious that the player does not want to continue at Barcelona and is not committed to our future project."

This has incensed Dembele, with Alemany going on to say: "We told him and his agents that he must leave the club immediately because we want to have players committed to the project. We expect a transfer to take place before January 31."

Dembele has been linked with clubs including Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Newcastle.

Responding to Barcelona's stance, Dembele issued a long statement on Instagram, saying he would not be "giving in to any blackmail".

The 24-year-old said he had put up with four years of reading lies about himself, declaring that claims had been made "with the sole purpose of harming me". He said it had been a mistake that he had not spoken out sooner.

"From today, I will answer with sincerity and without giving in to any blackmail," Dembele wrote. "I am 24 years old and like any man, I have faults, imperfections. I have known complex moments, injuries, I have been affected by COVID. Without any training, the coach called on me and I always answered present... without batting an eyelid.

"I appreciate the chance to do the best job in the world. Furthermore, my message is clear. I forbid anyone to pretend that I am not involved in the sports project. I forbid anyone to attribute to me intentions that I never had. I forbid anyone to speak in my place, [or] in place of my agent in whom I have complete confidence.

"Still under contract, I am fully concerned and at the disposal of my club, my coach. I have always given my all for my team-mates as well as for all the supporters... and this won't stop now."

Xavi has also told Dembele to sign or be sold, and the player who was acquired after the big-money departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain may have kicked his last ball for Barcelona. He was left out of the squad for Thursday's Copa del Rey last-16 tie with Athletic Bilbao.

Former Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann responded with fire and heart emojis to Dembele's passionate statement.

"I am not a man who cheats and even less a man who has a habit of giving in to blackmail," Dembele added.

"As you know, there are negotiations. I let my agent take care of this, it is his field. My field is football, simply playing football, sharing moments of joy with my team-mates, with our supporters. Above all, let's focus on the essentials: WINNING."

Barcelona coach Xavi has issued an ultimatum to Ousmane Dembele over his future: either sign a new contract or leave the club this month.

The Catalans have been in discussion with the winger for months about an extension to his deal, which expires at the end of the season.

Dembele has struggled badly with injury troubles since his move from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 for an initial €105million, which have hampered his attempts to establish himself as a key player at Camp Nou.

Xavi, though, has been eager to see the France international stay at the club despite him playing just six times in LaLiga this season and in only 52 per cent of all Barca's league games since his arrival.

This week, Dembele's agent Moussa Sissoko told RMC Sport that he would not bow to "pressure" from Barca over his client's future and accused the club of making "threats of no longer playing in the side" rather than engaging in productive talks.

It appears Xavi and Barca's directors have had enough of the situation and the message to Dembele is clear.

 

"What I can say is that we are making a difficult decision. If he does not renew, the club has decided they will make a decision," Xavi told reporters ahead of Thursday's Copa del Rey clash with Athletic Bilbao.

"We've waited a long time. We have been in talks with him for five months.

"Either he renews or we look for an exit. In the end, the club has decided that if he does not renew, a solution must be found.

"We have to do what is best for the club. [Sporting director] Mateu Alemany has been talking with him and his representatives for months.

"It's not a pleasant situation for anyone, but what's clear is that the interests of the club must prevail here.

"He told me he wants to stay. It's a question for him. I've been really clear; I can't be more concise. Either he renews, or we look for an exit. It's all or nothing."

Xavi also made it clear he considers it a priority to extend the contract of defender Ronald Araujo, which expires at the end of next season.

"His renewal is a priority. He's a really important piece. He has a winning character," Xavi said.

"I hope an agreement is reached because he's a player for the present and the future. Ronald is a boy who adds a lot."

Ousmane Dembele's agent claims Barcelona have threatened to bench the winger for the rest of the season if he does not sign a new contract.

Dembele entered the final six months of his deal on January 1, meaning he is eligible to discuss potential moves to other clubs for next season.

Barca, especially coach Xavi, have been open in their desire to see Dembele commit himself to the club, despite his time there being largely disappointing since joining from Borussia Dortmund for an initial €105million in 2017.

But reports suggest Barca have grown frustrated with the lack of movement, with Xavi previously urging Dembele to "make an effort" in talks.

Now, the likelihood of an agreement may have diminished even further after Dembele's agent accused Barca of refusing to negotiate and instead turning to "threats".

"It's applying pressure, and that doesn't work with people like us," Dembele's representative Moussa Sissoko told French broadcaster RMC Sport.

"Maybe it can work with agents who are cosy with Barcelona, but that's not the case, I am here to defend the interests of my player.

"We are not here to fuel the debates on social networks, but the truth must be told. Yes, we have demanding demands, but we have already shown that Ousmane's career choices are not dictated by the money, otherwise he wouldn't be here.

"If Barcelona wanted to negotiate, they could have tried to come to the table with us to discuss, except that there is no discussion, just threats of no longer playing in the side, and that's forbidden. We will assert Ousmane Dembele's rights if necessary.

"We don't know what we're going to do, nothing has been finalised, but [Barca's] hierarchy alone are losing Ousmane.

"From the start, we have shown that we want to discuss, with conditions of course, but without closing the door."

Xavi believes Barcelona are "on the right track" despite their 3-2 Supercopa de Espana semi-final defeat to Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Federico Valverde scored the decisive goal in extra time after Ansu Fati had equalised with seven minutes of normal time remaining.

Vinicius Junior had earlier put Los Blancos ahead but Luuk de Jong restored parity before the interval, the Netherlands international scoring in three straight games for the first time since arriving in Spain.

Karim Benzema restored Madrid's lead before Fati brought Barca back on level terms.

Barca had 20 shots in the defeat, with six on target – their highest tally in an El Clasico since April 2006, when they had 35 under Frank Rijkaard.

Xavi was pleased with his side's display and said his players could be proud of their efforts.

"I think we were better than Madrid in terms of play, dominance, and we had the game under control," he told Movistar.

"We took a lot of risks and we knew how to control transitions, and this is the way to compete.

"In the end we had the match and if you toss a coin and it comes up heads, nobody would have said anything, but tails came up.

"We can go away proud because we have competed against them and it is a step forward despite the result. 

"We are on the right track and while it was not a turning point in terms of the result, it was in terms of how we played and how we felt."

The result was Madrid's fifth consecutive win over Barca in all competitions – only the second time they have achieved this after a run of seven straight wins between 1962 and 1965.

Despite that, Gerard Pique was pleased with Barca's performance and predicts there are brighter days ahead for the Catalan giants.

"I think we competed very well," he said. "It is not the result we expected; losing against Madrid hurts but we are closer to winning. We need to win; we need that definitive step.

"We played well. We took risks and we have gone for the game. They arrived in the area with many players and they scored a goal but playing like this we are going to win.

"We should leave with our heads held high after competing like that against Madrid."

Carlo Ancelotti insisted Real Madrid are not favourites to beat Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana and would be worried if his players thought otherwise.

Wednesday's Clasico in Riyadh will determine who will face either Athletic Bilbao or Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa final on Sunday.

Madrid were 2-1 winners at Camp Nou in the previous meeting in LaLiga in October, and the gap between the sides has only widened since.

Los Blancos sit top of the league table after 21 matches, with Barca in sixth, 17 points behind their great rivals.

Ancelotti, though, thinks that will count for little with a place in the final up for grabs.

"I'd be worried if the players thought we were favourites, but they don't think that. They think we have to do everything to win," the Madrid coach said on Tuesday.

"These games are always balanced, however much of a gap there is in the table, just as the league game was balanced.

"When you play a game, you can win, draw or lose. The game will choose a winner. We have to play at our best level. We play against a team who are strong and who have the same objective, which is to reach the final."

 

This will be Xavi's first Clasico as Barca coach, the former Blaugrana midfielder having taken over from Ronald Koeman just two weeks after the 2-1 home defeat.

Although Xavi has earned praise for his use of young players and for striving to restore a typical style to Barca's play, results have been disappointing, with the Catalans having won only five of 11 matches since his appointment.

Still, Ancelotti believes they are showing signs of progress in their performances.

"I like them because they're a team with an identity, in the way Barca always have. I think they're a team who are going to improve with [Xavi's] contribution," he said.

"They have experienced players like [Sergio] Busquets, [Gerard] Pique or [Jordi] Alba, who always give a lot to the team. But the youngsters they're pushing forward stand out a lot, like Gavi or Nico, who can have a great future."

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