Xavi talks Frenkie, Pedri, Raphinha, Kounde, Roque ahead of Barcelona vs Mallorca

Photo Courtesy: FC Barcelona’s official website

FC Barcelona are preparing for their seventh match in the 2023-24 La Liga campaign as they face Mallorca on a midweek match tomorrow. Xavi’s team is flying high currently after winning all of their matches since the draw against Getafe on Matchday 1 of this La Liga season.

Barcelona currently sit atop the league table after they came from behind to beat Celta Vigo on Saturday, and Real Madrid lost the Madrid Derby on Sunday. Thus, Barcelona and Girona both have 16 points, while they are being chased by Real Madrid with 15 points.

Xavi spoke to the media during his customary pre-match conference, in which he discussed different aspects related to the club ahead of Barcelona vs RCD Mallorca:

Xavi on the Mallorca match

While Barcelona are favorites for this match on paper, Xavi confessed that the match against Mallorca can be tough, especially because of their defensive abilities:

“We know that Mallorca is a tough team because they have many defensive qualities, they work together and are generous in their efforts. They are physically strong, play direct, and have players like Muriqui or Abdon Prats who excel in the open spaces. They also have full-backs who join the attack and high-level players like Darder. It’s a difficult game, and they are motivated after their last match against Girona.”

Xavi was particularly wary about the ability of La Liga teams to set up a low block and stifle the creativity of a more attacking team, and cited the Celta game as a reference:

“Joaos, Raphinha, Lamine, and Lewandowski need more mobility. Goals come that way. Lots of mobility, position changes, being in the right place in the structure. We analyzed the Celta game, and we didn’t perform well, they played very well, and we were unbalanced several times. In attack, we need to do more, better positioning, and better positional play. We are on the right path despite not having a good game against Celta.”

Xavi seemingly had found that formula for countering extremely defensive structures in La Liga:

“To counter it, we need to attack better, make sure the midfielders understand they should attack spaces, work more on marking, reduce counterattacks, play better with fewer touches, maintain a high tempo, attack and defend better; there’s no other secret. In the first 60 minutes, we didn’t have the required level of intensity for the game. It’s a wake-up call for the team to improve.”

Xavi on La Liga

FC Barcelona went to the top of the league table as Real Madrid fell to cross-town rivals, Atletico Madrid. Xavi also briefly commented on this match:

“I always see Real Madrid as a strong team, like all teams; they have strengths and weaknesses. We analyze them like any other team and don’t give them more importance. We focus on Mallorca. I will tell you more when we play against Madrid, but for now, we haven’t analyzed it. I saw a very strong Atlético, a well-deserved victory.”

Further commenting on this game, Xavi expressed:

“I watched it; it was a great game, especially for Atlético, with intensity and generosity in their work. A great football match. I only watched the game; it’s a very favorable result for Atlético, a very important victory. I don’t want to get involved in anything about Madrid or Ancelotti, whether he made a mistake or not.”

While Barcelona have now topped the league table, Xavi was not getting too excited about his team’s new position on the table and wanted to keep going one game at a time:

“We don’t make calculations; we take it one game at a time. We have a very tough match ahead. First, Mallorca, and then we will think about Sevilla. This approach has worked well for us. Being at the top might be somewhat anecdotal at this point in the season, but we like it.”

Journalists attending the presser tried to pull Xavi into making comparisons between the current Real Madrid and Barcelona squads, but the Barcelona head coach resisted from giving his opinion on this question:

“I’ll tell you who has the better squad in June. It’s a matter of opinions and how you see football. There are 200,000 opinions and 7 million coaches in Catalonia. I’m very content with my squad; I don’t like comparisons; they have never worked out for me.”

Beyond the Madrid derby, Xavi was also asked about Real Madrid’s overall quality, but he replied that he was not too focused on Real Madrid for now:

“I always see Real Madrid as a strong team, like all teams; they have strengths and weaknesses. We analyze them like any other team and don’t give them more importance. We focus on Mallorca. I will tell you more when we play against Madrid, but for now, we haven’t analyzed it. I saw a very strong Atlético, a well-deserved victory.”

Overall, Xavi appeared happy with the events of the last weekend:

“Beyond what Real Madrid does, we are now at the top. Plus, the contract renewal is due to the club’s trust; I’m delighted. It has been a good weekend, that’s clear.”

Xavi on his players, team results, and rotations

Barcelona have been in electrifying form since the resumption of their matches after the last international break. The team has scored 13 goals in three matches, while only conceding two in return. Xavi credited individual players for these results:

“We always desire these results. It’s the individual quality of the players. Now, with Iñigo coming in, Oriol Romeu, Gündogan, and Cancelo, who are proven players. Joao Félix might be the one who surprises us the most, but he has understood his role well and can be very important to us. Talent is shining through, and we are happy with the signings.”

While the results have been great, Barcelona have also had a fair share of bad news over the last week. For instance, Frenkie de Jong was injured in the Celta match, while Vitor Roque also suffered an injury in Brazil. Xavi also touched upon these injuries in this presser:

“Frenkie’s absence is significant and crucial for us, considering how he has been playing since last season, exceptionally well. There are many players who can step up, and we hope not to feel his absence. We will see how he is after the break, but we hope for a good recovery and that he comes back 100%.”

Xavi was also hopeful about Vitor Roque:

“There is a possibility [of his arrival] in January. The doctors have spoken, and there won’t be an operation; he will undergo a conservative treatment to recover properly.”

Pedri is another important Barcelona player who is currently out with an injury, and the Barcelona head coach also updated about his recovery:

“Pedri is feeling very good; we will see when we can get him back. It depends on how he feels. He’s progressing well. We have alternatives, and Sergi Roberto is one of them. He’s a fantastic utility player for me as a coach, a luxury option. The same goes for Fermín; he’s a discovery and can help us a lot, he’s important.”

With De Jong and Pedri both out, Xavi will have to come up with a new plan to replace these important midfielders. Gundogan was pondered upon as a potential option for replacing De Jong in this press conference:

“Yes, also, I was talking about versatility. Gündogan can play as a deep-lying midfielder, like Oriol Romeu or Busquets before, but we believe his potential lies in getting into the box and providing assists. That’s what we want from him, especially now that we don’t have Pedri; he’s a very similar player. He can adapt to three or four midfield positions.”

Xavi once again praised Gavi, especially his heart and commitment, as he has already done multiple times in recent days:

“We know what Gavi is capable of. He’s very versatile. He has both defensive and offensive qualities and can shine in both aspects. He’s an exceptional player, with soul, heart, and passion… he’s vital for the team. Adding passes and goals, considering his abilities as a midfielder, is something he must do. I’m happy for him.”

Xavi confessed that Barcelona did not have a very big squad for the current season, but was satisfied with the versatility of his players:

“We have a not-so-large squad but with many players who can occupy various positions. Sergi Roberto, Cancelo, Ferran, Rafa, Joao Félix, Ronald Araujo… versatile players that work well for our team.”

Raphinha was one of the players who was expected to have an important role in the squad this season. However, he has not been able to feature in the team much, but Xavi remained adamant that he will be important for the team going forward:

“Rafa came on very well; he reminded me of Ferran when he wasn’t playing as much. He was excellent defensively and important in the second goal. He can play as an interior midfielder or an attacking midfielder. He hasn’t played much because of a red card or suspension against Getafe, but from now on, he will play and be important; I have no doubt.”

During the last season, Ousmane Dembele was the undisputed starter for Xavi on the right wing when healthy. He left for PSG this summer but Xavi was not missing him too much:

“I haven’t watched PSG’s games, but, of course, I remember. I hold no grudge; I still care for him and wish him the best. We have to move on and have found solutions with Rafa, Lamine, or Ferran. Sometimes when one player leaves, another one emerges, and we are happy with what we have.”

Before the Celta match, Xavi shared that he will be making at least two rotations in each coming match. He still held on to this idea with fixtures piling up for Barcelona:

“Yes, not for Porto, but first for the Sevilla match on Friday. I mentioned the other day that there will be an average of two or three rotations per game because we believe it’s necessary to keep the players at 100% and prevent injuries.”

Regarding these rotations, Xavi mentioned that there were two or three players who have played every match, and can be rested in the coming days:

“There are two or three players who have played every match. One is the goalkeeper, and we believe there is no fatigue, so he can play the whole game. We will make changes because some players need it. There is a slight alarm for rotation.”

Source: Mundo Deportivo

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