After back-to-back defeats against Manchester United and Almeria, Barcelona will be gunning to bounce back to winning ways when they take on Real Madrid in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday.
The Catalans have had a difficult week as they were eliminated from the UEFA Europa League and then suffered a shock loss in La Liga. So, it is imperative that they produce a strong reaction and, in the process, take a step towards progressing to the finals of the cup competition.
Ahead of this mammoth encounter coming our way from the Bernabeu, Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez spoke to the media where he discussed Real Madrid and the threat they pose, among several other things.
On facing Real Madrid: “They are a very tough opponent, they don’t dominate in many moments but they have those mini phases where they dominate you and in a transition they get in your goal. They are a very difficult opponent on their home pitch.
“In the league they beat us well and we beat them well in the Super Cup. I think it will be resolved in the second leg, it’s a golden opportunity to reach a final and win a title.”
On who are the favourites for the tie: “We are playing for a title, Madrid are still the favourites because they are the champions of La Liga and the Champions League. They are a very difficult opponent and they are in a good moment. Madrid are favourites.”
On how Barcelona can beat Madrid: “We have to be more of a team than ever, whether in defence, attack or strategy. In these games the small details make the difference. We have to be very brave, have personality and minimise turnovers because Vinicius, Valderde, Rodrygo, Benzema… can hurt you. It’s a game where we have to use the same style of play as we did in the Super Cup.”
On Ansu Fati’s fitness: “Today he has returned to training with the group and it is great news that it was just a bruise. He looks very happy and motivated and that is important.”
On the recent defeats and how it affects them mentally: “It’s a different competition, it has nothing to do with the last two games and in this competition we are doing very well. We have to change our mindset and this is a good opportunity to react.”
On Ferran Torres: “I am one of the people responsible for him being at Barça, I have total confidence in him wherever he plays. Against Cádiz he was one of the best and he needed it. We give him the confidence to be important, he already has been and he should be. He has the ability to make a difference and we have absolute faith in him.”
On why he thinks Real Madrid are favourites: “My argument is that Madrid have won the last few titles and we are in the process of building: we have won one title and against them, playing extraordinary football.
“But it’s Madrid, they are competing, they beat Liverpool and we have to be honest. We’ve got the tools to hurt them, we’ve shown that and I envisage a very evenly matched tie.”
On Pedri’s absence: “He is a key player for us, he makes a difference with goals and passes and gives us that tempo that we need in the middle. He is a very important loss for us, like Dembélé or Lewandowski. Pedri is a key player for the team.”
On the pressure of playing at the Bernabeu: “I don’t feel pressure, I go with excitement and desire, it always motivates me to go to the Bernabéu, I like this healthy football rivalry. I like to go there and try to dominate, it motivates me more than other games, it makes me feel good.
“I would like to play, I would love to have the ball in midfield at the Bernabéu, but I can’t. That’s why I tell the players to try, to be brave, winning there is a very nice feeling.”
On tomorrow’s match: “We have to be positive and think that we have the opportunity to win the league and the cup, we will go out to compete and show our style and personality, that we are still on the right track.”
On La Liga and the defeat to Almeria: “We are fine, we are analysing the defeat from the inside. It’s not an emotional or physical issue. It’s a footballing issue, we didn’t defend the goal well and we didn’t attack in the best possible way.
“Despite what happened in Europe, we are in a privileged situation. We are enjoying this situation. It can go wrong, but we’re here to make sure it doesn’t go wrong.”
On the Negreira scandal: “The referees should do their best. My feeling at Barça is that the referees haven’t helped us. I don’t like winning by cheating, I’ve said that many times.”
On calling up Estanis Pedrola: “We already know him from last year, he plays a very good one-on-one game, he has a goal, he’s in a good moment and with the loss of Robert we needed an attacker and he can help us.”
On the pessimism after Almeria defeat: “I’m not surprised, I know the club and the environment and I know where things are going, it doesn’t usually affect me and what is important to me is that it doesn’t affect the players, that they stay calm and compete for titles.
“If we won in Almeria it would be the best score in the history of La Liga, and little has been said about this. We are in a very good situation to win two titles.”
On Vinicius Jr: “He is making a difference. He is an exceptional player and has added goals. He’s a player we have to keep an eye on; he’s at a very high level.”
On his memories at the Bernabeu: “Most of them are very good, I remember the 2-6, at the Bernabeu in situations that we have won and come back from but it was a different era. They are cycles and now we are trying to match Madrid who have been winning titles in Europe for many years, that’s why I think they are favourites. I have very good memories but this is another story.”
On his advice to youngsters ahead of the Clasico: “That it is a privilege. It’s the best match in the world at club level and being a Culé it’s the best. The greatest rival. To be able to compete and beat them. It’s extraordinary and you have to enjoy it.”
On Angel Alarcon: “They are all options, the other day he came on with the score against us, I have a lot of confidence in him, he is versatile, he can play in the centre or on the wing, he is strong, he can be very useful in the present and in the future, I like him a lot personally.”
On the importance of winning at the Bernabeu: “It would be important for us, to win, to show good form, to win, to play well, but Madrid are very strong. It will be a very competitive game and there will be another game in April at the Camp Nou. We will try to have the game under control and dominate.”
On Ronald Araujo: “Wherever he plays he is a winner, in duels, in the air, he is very powerful and in defence he is one of the best in the world. He is fundamental wherever he plays.”
On whether he would accept a narrow defeat at the Bernabeu: “No. Barça have to win. Our intention is to always go out to win, being protagonists with the ball. We wouldn’t be happy with a defeat.”