Xavi Aiming To Prevent Barcelona Spiral As Villarreal Visit
It has been a chastening week for Barcelona and coach Xavi Hernandez must take action to stop his team from spiralling.
It has been a chastening week for Barcelona and coach Xavi Hernandez must take action to stop his team from spiralling. The Catalans drew with Inter Milan, leaving them on the verge of Champions League elimination, then suffered a bruising 3-1 defeat by rivals Real Madrid in the Clasico on Sunday in La Liga. Los Blancos leapfrogged Barcelona to move three points clear at the top of the table and the challenge for Xavi is to raise his team's morale and stay firmly in the title fight, not allowing his team to lick their wounds and stumble further.
Losing to Madrid was a bad blow for Barcelona's confidence but zooming out, it is just a blip in a long season.
It would be just as damaging to drop points against Villarreal on Thursday at Camp Nou.
Unai Emery's side visit knowing they can capitalise on Barcelona's recent struggles to earn another victory over the Catalans, as they did on the final day of last season to secure European football.
Barcelona finished with their lowest points total in La Liga for 14 years, a long way behind champions Real Madrid, and despite several summer signings, the Clasico exposed that a gap remains between the clubs.
Along with economic concerns, with the team set for a Champions League exit, the sporting issues continue to mount. Sunday's defeat means that Xavi has the worst record of any Barcelona coach after 50 games in charge in recent history, although unlike his counterparts he has not been able to rely on the club's best player of all time, Lionel Messi.
"We have to change the dynamic, the season is very long," said Xavi. "Sometimes you're down, but we have to be strong, keep believing and working, I don't know any other way to get to success. Luckily, it's only three points lost and now we have to prepare to face Villarreal."
The coach may look to rotate for the visit of the "Yellow Submarine" after Gavi, Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres impressed in the Clasico after coming off the bench. The latter two combined for Barcelona's late goal which pulled the score back to 2-1, giving them a glimmer of hope before Rodrygo won and dispatched a penalty in stoppage time.
Veteran midfielder Sergio Busquets has been in the spotlight after making a mistake which cost the team a goal against Inter Milan, and then failing to take down Toni Kroos ahead of Madrid's first goal in the Clasico. He might join Gerard Pique on the bench.
"We have to make a foul," said Xavi. "(But) I am the one responsible. I will never blame the players. Football is a game of errors and we have to minimise them.
"Madrid minimise them and take advantage of their good moments, that's why they are a great team and have been winning for years. We are just starting out, we're in a maturing process, but on a good path."
Player to watch: Reinildo Mandava
The Mozambican Atletico Madrid defender put in a brilliant display to help his team keep a clean sheet against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday. If Diego Simeone's side want to mount a title challenge and restore their previous solidity in defence then Mandava will be a crucial part of that. The left-back has been in sublime form this season and Rayo Vallecano cannot expect much joy in a Madrid derby clash on Tuesday.