Julen Lopetegui believes Barcelona finally have a clear vision for their future as his Sevilla side attempt to inflict one final blow of a terrible year for the struggling giants.

It has been a woefully grim 2021 for Barcelona, with the club having encountered dire financial problems that were a factor behind their greatest player, Lionel Messi, being forced to leave.

On the field, they won the Copa del Rey in April but have endured a torrid time in the Champions League and LaLiga, with another club legend, Ronald Koeman, losing his job as coach as a result.

The COVID-19 crisis has hit Barcelona hard, but out of the chaos of the last 12 months has risen an emerging group of young players who could save the club a fortune in transfer fees and point to a bright future on the pitch.

The likes of Pedro, Gavi, Ez Abde and Nico Gonzalez have come to the fore, at a time when Barcelona cannot rush to the cheque book to solve their problems.

With Xavi returning to the club as head coach, there are grounds for optimism again at Barcelona. Yet results continue to be mixed, and the perennial LaLiga title challengers are nowhere near that battle this time around as they head into their final game of the calendar year.

They travel to face a Sevilla side who sit second and are six points behind leaders Real Madrid with a game in hand.

Former Spain and Madrid boss Lopetegui would love his team to head into the winter break on a high, with this season one where they may not have to worry unduly about Barcelona entering the title race.

That could change if seventh-placed Barca win on Tuesday and shrink their deficit to Sevilla down to seven points, and Lopetegui has seen enough of Xavi's work-in-progress team to be wary of their threat.

Yet a 2-1 win at the weekend against last season's champions Atletico Madrid means Sevilla are on a high.

 

Lopetegui said in Monday's pre-game news conference: "Very recently we were playing one tough game and now another that is even tougher awaits us.

"We will measure ourselves against one of the best Barcelona [teams] for a long time.

"They have improved a lot, with players that you'd struggle to see at other teams, young but very good. They have got players back such as [Ousmane] Dembele, so we're expecting them to be very strong and with the influence of Xavi.

"We'll try to be fully recovered and prepare well, today we trained with 13 first-team players so we'll have to wait until tomorrow to make our final decisions."

Sevilla and Barcelona have both scored 28 goals in LaLiga this season, but the leakier defence has been that of the Catalan giants, shipping 21 in 17 games compared to Sevilla's league-best 12 conceded. Curiously, Barcelona have made just one error that has led to a goal, while Sevilla have made four.

These teams have scored their goals in strikingly different manners, with Sevilla having an even split between right-footed and left-footed goals among their haul – 11 of each – while Barcelona have scored just three left-footed goals and 20 right-footed, a sure sign that the Messi era has passed.

There has also been a major disparity between the finishing of each team. Barcelona have an expected goals (xG) score of 31.06 in LaLiga, but have fallen short of matching that, while Sevilla have impressively outperformed their xG total of 22.34 to stay on Madrid's coat-tails.

 

These teams like to have the ball, so something must give on Tuesday.

Barcelona have had 65.02 per cent of possession across their games this season, while Sevilla have had the ball 60.39 per cent of the time.

Injuries might be biting, but this is no time for searching for excuses, with Lopetegui insisting Barcelona's 3-2 win over Elche on Saturday did not fairly reflect the dominance of Xavi's team. Barcelona led the shot count 19-5 in that game, were 2.8 to 1 ahead on xG, and had 73.4 per cent of possession.

Lopetegui said: "You can see what Barcelona are looking for and they have the right players for that. They want the ball, they want width. They've got young, capable players, some of them start for Spain, while they've got top-class, experienced players. They have a lot of width, they're good at one-on-one situations, etc. Between the two areas we're going to have to do a lot of things right."

Xavi described midfielder Gavi as "the future of Barcelona" after his performance in Saturday's 3-2 LaLiga win over Elche.

The Catalans claimed just their third win since Xavi took over as head coach, although they were made to work for the result at Camp Nou.

A dominant first half saw them go into the break 2-0 ahead, with Ferran Jutgla heading in the opener before Gavi opened his Barca account with a stunning solo run and finish.

The 17-year-old became the youngest player to score in LaLiga this season, overtaking Real Madrid's 18-year-old Eduardo Camavinga, and the third-youngest for Barca in Spain's top flight this century.

Elche produced a stirring comeback in the second half as Tele Morente and Pere Milla scored within the space of a minute, ending a 43-year wait for a goal against the Blaugrana in the competition.

It took a superb finish from substitute Nico Gonzalez to secure all three points and move Barca to within three points of the top four.

Gavi's performance was a highlight, though, the midfielder completing all 35 of his first-half passes and producing the key assist for Nico's winner in the closing minutes.

 

Xavi said of the rising star: "It's amazing to have him, how he competes, what he creates, the goal, the assist. He's spectacular, he's the future of this club.

"Gavi is excited by the way he plays and competes, and that's priceless for a coach."

Before the game, Xavi had suggested some of his players had shown a worrying lack of understanding of positional play, and he felt that was on show during the contest.

Indeed, the former Barca midfielder felt they should have been smarter without the ball when it came to stopping Elche's rare attacks.

"Positional play isn't working and that continues to surprise me," he said. "Elche's goal is a huge mistake from us. We can't progress in this way; we could have made three fouls.

"It's a shame, but we're playing with youngsters who are the ones that make the difference.

"It was like a final. It was a game that we complicated for ourselves. They survived because of our mistakes and that can't be. A game you have under control can't be like that. We have to learn and have more responsibility.

"We have to learn and that's the only way to win."

However, on the importance of the result, he added to Barca TV: "For us, for how we are, these are three golden points.

"Being positive, we played an excellent first half, we were able to score more goals. We understood the spaces well, the wide players were two daggers, the defensive line was really good."

Barcelona head coach Xavi has claimed it is "strange" that some of his players "do not understand" the style of play he is attempting to impose.

Appointed to arrest the team's decline under predecessor Ronald Koeman, the former midfield star has struggled to reverse the problems at Camp Nou in terms of performances and results.

Barca have won just two of six games since Xavi's return to the club, while a goalless draw with Benfica and a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich saw them fail to progress to the Champions League last 16 for the first time in 20 years.

Ahead of Saturday's game with Elche, the Catalans are eighth in LaLiga, 18 points behind leaders Real Madrid and five adrift of the top four.

Xavi has suggested part of the problem lies in his players' inability to grasp 'juego de posicion', a structured approach to play with and without the ball in which the former Spain international thrived.

However, he is refusing to give up on Barca's ambitions this season, telling reporters: "I have a lot of faith in my players, although the results are not following. We have to believe in the process.

"We're Barca and we have to compete against any opponent, regardless of injuries. We can't make excuses.

"The objective is to be in the top four and to win trophies, although the gap to the leaders is very big. We don't rule anything out.

"We need to understand the way we want to play football. It's strange there are Barca players who don't understand juego de posicion.

"This is about winning, and we're eighth in the table. We have to be positive and brave: press high, press after losing the ball, attack spaces... this is what we want."

 

Barca's well-documented financial problems leave them in a precarious position when it comes to bolstering the squad in the transfer window.

Indeed, amid reports president Joan Laporta had met with agent Mino Raiola to discuss the prospect of signing Erling Haaland next year, LaLiga boss Javier Tebas expressed his doubt that Barca would be able to afford the Borussia Dortmund star.

However, Xavi insisted Tebas would be as happy as anyone to see a talent of Haaland's pedigree move to Spain's top flight.

"In these moments we have a difficult economic situation, and you have to think that it's not going to be easy. We have a salary cap," Xavi said.

"In terms of names, we haven't spoken of that possibility. It would interest [Tebas] for players like Haaland to be here for the good of the league."

It has been suggested Barca could look to offload Ousmane Dembele to fund January arrivals, but Xavi appeared keen to keep the winger, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

"I spoke with him yesterday. I'm positive. He wants to continue. I can't say more; it's a matter of reaching an agreement.

"He already knows the importance he'll have if he stays with us. He looks good, he's playing more and more. He's a footballer capable of making a difference."

Xavi hailed "sensational" Dani Alves and tipped the full-back to have a big impact at Barcelona after making his second debut for the club on Tuesday.

Alves returned to Camp Nou on a free transfer last month following his departure from Sao Paulo in September over a contractual dispute.

The 38-year-old, who played 391 times for Barca in his first spell with the club, cannot be officially registered for the Catalan giants until the January transfer window.

However, the Brazil international was able to pull on the Blaugrana strip in Barca's exhibition friendly with Boca Juniors and played a full part in Saudi Arabia.

Alves impressed in the first half in particular but could not help his side overcome Argentine giants Boca, who went on to win the penalty shoot-out 4-2 after a 1-1 draw.

Xavi may not be able to call upon Alves competitively for another few weeks, but the recently appointed Barca boss is glad to have the veteran defender in his squad.

"His second debut is very positive for the team," Xavi said after the Maradona Cup match. "Everyone has seen he will help us a lot. He is a sensational player. 

"He's a team player and has a lot of character and soul. He will do very well for us.

"He has shown what he can contribute both in defence and attack. He plays with a lot of intensity and his final pass makes a difference."

 

Questions were raised regarding the timing of the game, which was held in memory of the late Diego Maradona, who represented both clubs during his legendary playing career.

But Xavi felt it was a good opportunity to give certain fringe players a run-out, with Philippe Coutinho among those to feature from the beginning.

"Those who have played less, like Neto or Riqui Puig, performed at a very good level, as did all the youngsters," Xavi said.

"The conclusions I take from this game are positive. We lost on penalties but are happy. Losing on penalties is the least important thing – getting minutes is what matters."

Ferran Jutgla gave a much-changed Barca side the lead at King Saud University Stadium, but Exequiel Zeballos struck 13 minutes from time to take the game to penalties.

Xavi's side now turn their focus back to LaLiga matters with a home match against Elche on Saturday, before travelling to Sevilla three days later for their final game of a testing year.

Barca have been linked with Erling Haaland as they prepare for 2022 after the Borussia Dortmund striker's agent reportedly met with club president Joan Laporta.

Given the LaLiga side's well-publicised financial issues, however, a move for the in-demand Norway international seems highly unlikely next year.

"These are all hypotheses," Xavi said when asked about the recent transfer speculation. "We will see, because we depend a lot on the salary limit and on financial fair play.

"We are not in our best moment but we will try to strengthen the team and the reinforcement of Dani will also go very well for us. In all markets we would like to strengthen."

Dani Alves is ready to begin "the most important challenge" of his career when he makes his second debut for Barcelona in Tuesday's exhibition match with Boca Juniors.

The 38-year-old re-joined the club on a free transfer last month following his departure from Sao Paulo in September over a contractual dispute.

Alves, who played 391 times for Barca in his first trophy-laden spell at Camp Nou, cannot be officially registered for the Catalan giants until the January transfer window opens.

However, the Brazil international is in line to represent Blaugrana on Tuesday when they face Argentine giants Boca Juniors in the Maradona Cup in Riyadh.

Speaking at a pre-match news conference on the eve of the friendly, Alves said: "I'm feeling nervous after not being able to play and represent the club for so long.

"The most important challenge of my career has come, because of how the situation happened and the position the club is in.

"But challenges are for those who do not fear them. We will all do our best for this club and for this badge."

 

Alves won 23 trophies in eight seasons with Barca before departing in 2016 for spells with Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Sao Paulo, where he spent two years.

The club the veteran full-back has returned to five years on is a long way off competing for major honours. 

Barca exited the Champions League at the group stage last week and are eighth in LaLiga after 16 matches, but Alves is hopeful he can help the Catalans return to the top.

"We're used to seeing Barcelona at the top but we know there's a problem," he said. "We cannot hide from it, but instead look for a solution as soon as possible.

"When I arrived the first time a transformation had to be made. The situation is different but it's done and we will write a new chapter to get Barca where they are used to. 

"We have to recover the winning feeling because we live for winning. We have to change the streak. In football, there are good and bad streaks, though this is lasting a bit longer."

Barca have named a 28-man group for the meeting against Boca, with Alves joined by the likes of Gerard Pique, Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and other first-team stars.

The timing of the game, with league matches against Elche and Sevilla to come over the next eight days, has raised questions.

But while Xavi accepts the distance travelled is not ideal, he believes it is important to respect Maradona, who died from a heart attack aged 60 last November.

"These are club circumstances and is something that was previously agreed," he told reporters in Saudi Arabia. "For us it's an honour to be here representing Barcelona.

"We are paying homage to one of the best players in history. It's an honour and a privilege and it will be an emotional occasion."

Hinting at changes to the side that started the 2-2 draw with Osasuna on Sunday, Xavi added: "It will be a test for the players that don't usually play and a chance to see players that haven't played so much. We want to be at our best."

Xavi believes Barcelona's supporters will be "proud" of their team despite a disappointing 1-0 defeat at home to Real Betis on Saturday.

After LaLiga wins over Espanyol and Villarreal and a Champions League draw against Benfica, the result marked Xavi's first defeat in charge of the Blaugrana since he took over from Ronald Koeman.

Barca's tally of 23 goals in LaLiga this term is their lowest at this stage since the 2003-04 campaign when they scored 19, while their points total of 23 is their lowest since the same season (20).

Xavi refused to be too downbeat, though, and believed his side deserved more from the game, which was ultimately won by Juanmi's breakaway goal with 11 minutes remaining.

"It is a shame because we did not deserve to lose," he told a media conference. "We did not have the luck we had against Villarreal today.

"We cannot allow a goal like the one we have conceded but it is a shame to have lost because we deserved to win.

"I think the fans will be proud of the team. We played a very good second half and Betis' goal came when we were at our best.

"Sometimes you have to know how to make tactical fouls and prevent the opponent playing and we did not do that.

"Their goal bothers me a lot because a situation like this cannot happen to us.

"I have told the players that this is football and that I am proud of them. They have given everything and if anyone deserved to win the game it was Barca."

Barca's attention now turns to a crucial Champions League clash against Bayern Munich on Wednesday.

The Catalan giants are second in Group E, just two points ahead of Benfica, and they know the only way of guaranteeing their progression to the knockout stages is victory at the Allianz Arena.

"On Wednesday we will have to compete like animals in Munich because we are at risk of not making into the last 16," he said.

"But we depend on ourselves. It's easy; if we win we're in the round of 16 and if Benfica don’t win we're through.

"We'll go with everything and play like we did in the second half today. We will see how far that takes us."

Xavi had his first taste of defeat as Barcelona boss with Juanmi securing Real Betis a famous 1-0 victory at Camp Nou on Saturday. 

Barca defeated Espanyol and Villarreal in their first two LaLiga matches under Xavi, which came either side of a goalless draw at home to Benfica in the Champions League. 

The lacked a serious attacking threat against Betis and were punished on the break by Juanmi with 11 minutes remaining. 

Ez Abde missed a glorious chance to salvage a point for the Blaugrana, who could find themselves seven points adrift of the top four and 16 off top spot if Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid win later in the day. 

Philippe Coutinho sent a tame effort from Jordi Alba's cross towards the near post in the 11th minute and Rui Silva held it at the second attempt. 

Gavi had to go off after the ball was kicked against his head by Hector Bellerin, meaning his status for the crunch Champions League clash with Bayern Munich in midweek could now be in doubt. 

After Juanmi had a goal disallowed for a narrow offside decision, Xavi sent Frenkie de Jong and Ousmane Dembele on with Barca toiling. 

Dembele was lively but could not find the target and Betis put them to the sword with a swift break that finished with Juanmi sliding home a pass from former Barca winger Cristian Tello. 

Barca pushed for a winner but Ez Abde blazed their best opportunity over from eight yards with 10 minutes remaining. 

Ronald Araujo was deemed to have fouled Andres Guardado despite appealing for a stoppage-time penalty, leaving Xavi to cope with the bitter taste of a first defeat.

Xavi claimed Ousmane Dembele could become the "best player in the world in his position" after Barcelona president Joan Laporta suggested the forward is better than Kylian Mbappe.

Dembele, who was a €105million signing from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, is out of contract at the end of the season and has been linked with a move away from Camp Nou in January.

The France international will be free to discuss fresh terms with clubs next month if a new contract cannot be agreed with current club Barca.

Laporta revealed on Thursday that negotiations were going slower than expected with Dembele but assured the following day that the 24-year-old wanted to stay and told TV3 he believes the Barca forward was better than Mbappe.

"We have a very good relationship with Dembele and he wants to stay," Laporta said.

"We also want him to stay because he's a great player. These situations need negotiations with representatives who want the best for the player.

"I'm enthusiastic about Dembele. He's a better player than Mbappe."

Asked for an update on the Dembele situation, Xavi told reporters:  "What I know is that it is not only the economic issue.

"We have left him a very clear position. He is a very important player with great talent. I already said it, he can be the best player in the world in his position. It depends on him. 

"We think of him as a key figure in this project. If it is because of the sporting project, he is happy. We are going to be positive. It is not just an economic issue. He wanted to feel loved and this he will have."

Questions were then put forward as to whether Dembele would feature without signing a contract and Xavi responded: "It would not be the objective, if he has a contract I think he has to play. 

"You have to be positive. But on the other hand, I am very clear on that, if you have a contract you have to play, also because of the image of the club. I do not value that option; I do not contemplate it."

 

Club legend Xavi took the reins after Ronald Koeman's dismissal in late October and has triumphed in his opening two LaLiga games – only four Barca managers have ever won their first three in the competition in the 21st century.

The Catalan club sit seventh, 13 points off leaders Real Madrid ahead of facing Betis, who have won just one of 20 previous top-flight meetings with Barca.

Xavi's side then face Bayern Munich on Wednesday in a crucial Champions League clash that they are likely to have to win to qualify for the knockout stages, but the former midfielder insisted his focus was on Betis.

"I look no further," Xavi responded when asked about the week ahead. "Each game is vital. Tomorrow is also a final. We cannot lose points if we want to connect and fight for the league. 

"We will play with the best 11, with whom I think they can perform better due to the circumstances. The league will tell us where we are at the end of the season.

"It is an important week like the next one will also be. And in January. Barca is a daily requirement and every game. 

"Every week at Barca is vital. There is no rest until the holidays and more in this situation, we can't give anything away.

"Barca aspires to win everything and time will always tell where we got to. We are a team made to win, compete and the notes will say where we have competed."

Gerard Pique revealed he feels "added pressure" as he does not want to let former team-mate and new Barcelona head coach Xavi down.

The centre-back has started all three games of the new era under Xavi, who was appointed in the wake of Ronald Koeman's dismissal at the end of October.

Barca have won twice while drawing the other of Xavi's first three games and currently sit in 10th in LaLiga, 10 points behind leaders Real Madrid.

Pique now feels an added incentive and pressure to perform for the former Blaugrana midfielder, who he played with 261 times during the Catalan club's halcyon days.

"Xavi has arrived and has set standards like many coaches," Pique told Spanish television show El Hormiguero on Tuesday. 

"They are necessary to demand orders and we are going to fulfil them all as it has always been in the past.

"It puts added pressure on me to have Xavi as a coach, you don't want to let him down.

"Morally I have to give him my best and if my performance is not the best I feel like I'm failing him."

Barca's challenge has mounted this term following the departure of Lionel Messi, who ended a 21-year association with the Spanish giants as he joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

Pique explained the difficulties of seeing Messi leave as he reminisced on a glory period with the Argentine superstar, who collected a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or on Monday.

"It was very hard, we played together since we were 14 years old," he added. "It was very hard from a sporting and personal point of view. Things haven't gone well for us at the start of the season.

"I am happy for him and his seventh Ballon d'Or proves that he is the best of all time.

"He has gone to a new country and a new culture. It's difficult, it happened to me when I was 17 when I went to Manchester [United]. Leo has gone with his family and I went on my own, but it's hard."

Pique has no ambitions to leave Barca, though he has been gradually preparing himself for a potential retirement.

"Many team-mates say that when you retire it's hard. You have had this routine since you were little," the 34-year-old continued.

"It takes you a long time to adapt to the new life. People can take a year or more. And people recognise you less and less in the street and generations go by. It's hard.

"I have been preparing myself for this life for a long time. Investing in business, projects, [and so on] to have something to do after I retire.

"The key is to have something to do after leaving football. But clearly, I'm going to miss football."

Xavi believes Barcelona's 3-1 win over Villarreal will give his players a morale boost despite acknowledging their performance did not warrant all three points.

The former Barca midfielder oversaw a 1-0 win over Espanyol last weekend after taking over the reins from Ronald Koeman, but it looked like he would be denied another victory on Saturday when Samuel Chukwueze cancelled out Frenkie de Jong's opener.

Memphis Depay came to Barca's rescue, though, with a vital goal in the 88th minute, before Philippe Coutinho added a third from the penalty spot in stoppage time.

Not only was it Barca's first away win in LaLiga this season, it was also the first time they have won back-to-back games in the competition this term.

The win over Espanyol was followed by a 0-0 draw with Benfica in the Champions League in midweek, and Xavi says the victory at La Ceramica was comfortably the worst his side has played across his first three games in charge.

"It was very even, Villarreal is a great team," he told a media conference. "Of the three games that I have played, it is the one that we have dominated the least and the one that we least deserved to win.

"Today could have ended up as a draw and instead we are leaving with a victory. That is tremendous and gives us a lot of morale.

"It is a spectacular victory that gives us a lot of morale to continue growing. This victory gives us life.

"That game was the minimum required. Belief, attitude, respect for the badge, and hard work; they are the foundations of a team. Today was a victory of team spirit. When we do not play well, we also have to win. We are Barca."

 

Both sides had cause to be frustrated with the officials during a chaotic opening 10 minutes. 

Villarreal midfielder Dani Parejo was fortunate to escape a red card for a shocking early challenge on Sergio Busquets, while Gerard Pique went unpunished for a blatant handball in the penalty area soon after. 

Xavi refused to criticise the officials, though, adding: "In the end, I will not talk about the referees. It is a very difficult job and I will not put myself into it.

"In the end, it is the referee who decides. One day he can help you and another day harm you. It is difficult to be a referee."

Jordi Alba was replaced by Oscar Mingueza in the 71st minute after sustaining an injury, with Xavi revealing the full-back fought through the pain barrier to continue. 

"At half-time it looked like he could not continue, but he has made a brutal effort to carry on," the Barca boss said. "He is an example; he is one of the captains, and he is pushing us forward. Jordi has made an effort until he couldn't take any more."

Xavi made it back-to-back LaLiga wins following his appointment as Barcelona head coach as late goals from Memphis Depay and Philippe Coutinho secured a 3-1 win over Villarreal.

The former Barca midfielder oversaw a 1-0 win over Espanyol last weekend after taking over the reins from Ronald Koeman, but it looked like he would be denied another three points at Estadio de la Ceramica when Samuel Chukwueze cancelled out Frenkie de Jong's opener.

Depay had other ideas, though, stroking home with two minutes remaining to spark jubilant celebrations from Xavi on the Barca bench, before Coutinho added a third from the penalty spot in stoppage time.

The result puts seventh-placed Barca seven points behind leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand, while Villarreal stay 12th.

Xavi wants Ousmane Dembele to stay at Barcelona amid rumours of interest from Newcastle United.

The Premier League side, bankrolled after their takeover by a Saudi Arabia-led consortium, are expected to spend heavily during the January transfer window.

Barca winger Dembele is said to be a target, with a report in Sport on Friday suggesting the player's agent, Moussa Sissoko, is prepared to listen to offers as he is not happy with the Catalans' new contract offer.

The France international, a €105million signing from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, has made only two Champions League appearances this season due to injury problems but is in the squad for Saturday's LaLiga game at Villarreal.

Dembele's time in Spain has been blighted by fitness problems, but he remains a dangerous player when available. Since his arrival, Dembele has managed 30 goals and 20 assists in 120 games, a total bettered by only four players, while his average of 1.9 chances created per 90 minutes is second only to Lionel Messi in that time among players to make more than 14 appearances.

Head coach Xavi has made it clear that Dembele is firmly in his plans.

 

"I had an individual chat with him," Xavi said on Friday. "I made it clear to him how important he was for not only me this season, but for the future.

"It depends on him. Hopefully, he can renew because he's a player capable of making a difference in the next few years."

Xavi added on rumours suggesting Barca could also cash in on some midfield players: "We need them. They're players who are playing and none of them is for sale at all."

Barca beat Espanyol 1-0 in Xavi's first match in charge before a goalless draw with Benfica in the Champions League this week.

Their first away game under the former midfielder pits them against a side who have failed to win any of their previous 24 league matches with the Blaugrana.

Xavi has been impressed with his players' application but admits taking their chances is a concern, Barca having posted figures of 1.56 and 1.39 expected goals against Espanyol and Benfica without scoring from open play.

"I'm really happy with the team's reaction. We win a lot of duels, we're pressing well. I think in attack we have to be more daring," he said.

"We have players who are very young on the inside and have to dare more. I went through it at that age. There's a goal – I can see it in training.

"In general I'm quite satisfied with what I see on the pitch. We want to subdue the opposition and I think we're succeeding, but we have to score to win games."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta is "convinced" the LaLiga giants will reach the Champions League last 16 by beating Bayern Munich next month.

Barca's Champions League hopes hang in the balance following Tuesday's goalless draw at home to Benfica.

Xavi's Barca remain second in Group E and two points ahead of their Portuguese counterparts but face runaway leaders Bayern in two weeks' time with their fate yet to be decided.

Barca last failed to advance beyond the group stage in 2000-01, when they finished behind Milan and Leeds United.

However, Laporta is confident Barca can seal progress to the knockout phase heading into the December 8 showdown in Munich.

"Beating Bayern is something that can be achieved," Laporta said to Diario AS, with Barca looking to bounce back from the 3-0 defeat in the reverse fixture.

"There is going to be a miracle, I am convinced that we are going to win.

"Xavi is very motivated and very strong. I hope everything goes well for us.

"I think that at the moment Xavi's arrival has generated a little respect from our opponents. They know we can do it again."

The stalemate against Benfica was Barca's 133rd home game in the Champions League, and just the eighth to end as a goalless draw.

Xavi became the 13th consecutive head coach to avoid defeat in his first Champions League game in charge of Barcelona (W11 D2), with Louis van Gaal in 1997-98 being the last to lose his first game (3-2 against Newcastle United).

Barca have only scored two goals in five Champions League games this season; only Malmo (0.2), Dynamo Kyiv (0.2) and Shakhtar Donetsk (0.25) have a lower goals-per-game ratio than the Catalan side (0.4) in the competition this term.

Xavi has issued a rallying cry to Barcelona as their Champions League hopes hang in the balance following Tuesday's 0-0 draw with Benfica.

The Blaugrana missed the opportunity to seal their progress to the knockout stages of the competition, despite a dominant performance at Camp Nou.

Although Xavi became the 13th consecutive manager to avoid defeat in his first Champions League game in charge of Barca, his side were unable to break down a stubborn Benfica.

The goalless stalemate was only the eighth that Barcelona have recorded in 133 home matches in this competition, while they have mustered just two goals from their opening five games.

They remain second in Group E and two points ahead of their Portuguese counterparts, but face runaway leaders Bayern Munich in two weeks' time with their fate yet to be decided.

Xavi insists his side will travel to Germany with a positive mentality.

"We were far superior to Benfica. If we had scored, we would be talking about a good match," the Barca head coach said.

"We take a point that means very little. We have one day left, and we have to go to Germany to win.

"We have one goal in two games [since I took over] and we have scored it from a penalty. It is clear that we have to be more effective.

"You have to go to Munich to win; we are Barca."

Barca did have the ball in the net through Ronald Araujo in the 83rd minute, but the defender's volley was ruled out for offside.

The Uruguay international was pleased with the mentality demonstrated by the hosts, but admitted the result left a bitter taste in his mouth.

"We missed the goal, which was the golden key to qualify," Araujo said. "The attitude was very good, but they were very tight in defence.

"There is a bitter taste because we wanted to win the three points here, in front of our people, but we have to win now in Munich."

Liverpool playmaker Thiago Alcantara has not considered a return to Barcelona, insisting he is "100 per cent' happy with his choice to move to Anfield.

Thiago has not had it easy with injuries since his transfer to Liverpool from Bayern Munich in 2020.

The Spain international contracted COVID-19 shortly after his arrival, before suffering an injury due to a tackle from Everton's Richarlison during his full debut in October last year.

He played just 24 league games last season, starting 20 of them, scoring once.

More niggling injury issues have restricted the 30-year-old to eight appearances across all competitions so far this term. However, he does seem to be rediscovering something close to his best form, at least from a creative standpoint.

Per 90 minutes played, Thiago creates on average 2.2 chances, tied with Mohamed Salah for third place in Liverpool's squad behind Trent Alexander-Arnold (3.2) and Konstantinos Tsimikas (2.7), while 305 of his 345 attempted passes have found a team-mate (an 88.4 per cent accuracy).

Following Xavi taking over from Ronald Koeman at Barca, however, there had been reports linking Thiago with a return to his former club, with the Blaugrana's new coach reportedly keen to reunite with his old team-mate.

Thiago, though, says he is perfectly happy at Anfield.

"As always, I am a guy who plays football," he told a news conference ahead of Liverpool's Champions League meeting with Porto on Wednesday.

"I am not focused on the rumours, I am focused on the duty I have with my team, the years that I have on the contract and I just want to know about this new adventure that I have here in the Premier League, trying to win all the trophies that I can with this team."

"One hundred per cent I made the right choice, the right move," he added when asked if he had any doubts over his move to the Premier League due to the amount of injuries he has sustained.

"The injuries stop the frequency to play, and to know how the team performs on the pitch.

"You can watch football and all the time it's awesome but putting it into practice is even better. It's a pity football has [injuries] but it's part of football, part of life, when we are fit we have to put in as high performances as we can.

"I think the first year was very interrupted because of the COVID situation, injury. I had a quick adaptation. We struggled last season, for many reasons.

"This year, you know much better your team-mates, the runs that they make, the way they prefer to receive the ball, the way they defend, how they attack. To me the most important thing is to try to win in the way we want to win."

Thiago has collected four LaLiga titles, seven Bundesliga crowns and three Champions League winners' medals across a glittering career, working under some of Europe's top coaches, including Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Hansi Flick and, now, Jurgen Klopp.

"First of all, I had the luck to play with great players, great teams. I remember the time with Pep was different to Ancelotti and time with Tito [Vilanova] was different to Pep also," he said when asked to compare playing under Guardiola and Klopp. 

"With these two coaches [Guardiola and Klopp] we can see, they both have the same charisma. Also, they have the group in their hands, they make them perform better. The similarities are there. 

"The difference is how the teams play. One is much more possession. It's great both are doing what they want in the greatest way football can bring."

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.