Barcelona look to tighten grip on prime 4 pretty much as good vibes return beneath Xavi

Barcelona look to tighten grip on prime 4 pretty much as good vibes return beneath Xavi



Madrid (AFP) – Barcelona won’t win La Liga, the Champions League and even the Copa del Rey and but nonetheless they may make this season successful.

Trailing Real Madrid by 15 factors in La Liga after going out of the Champions League within the group stage and the cup within the final 16 would normally quantity to a full-blown disaster at Barca, no matter whether or not they go on to win the Europa League in May.

Yet two-and-a-half years of relative mediocrity have vaporised once-high expectations whereas a stream of big-name departures, together with Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain, have hammered house the stark actuality of the membership’s monetary disaster.

Xavi Hernandez definitely benefited from these diminished expectations throughout the first few weeks of his tenure, when glimpses of progress had been crowded out by a trudge of uninspiring performances, the like of which might not have regarded misplaced beneath his predecessor Ronald Koeman.

“It’s proving harder than we thought,” Xavi mentioned in December.

Like Koeman, although, Xavi loved a wave of goodwill early on and nonetheless does, with assist and optimism supplied to him extra readily by followers as a result of so many hope he may be the ideological successor to Pep Guardiola.

But in latest weeks there was good purpose for a sudden surge of pleasure at Barca, who sit fourth in La Liga forward of Sunday’s sport at Thirteenth-placed Elche.

When Xavi took cost in November, Barcelona had been ninth, a leaky defence made all of the extra pricey by a stuttering assault.

With 13 video games left, they are going to be third in the event that they win their sport in hand over Real Betis and it’s nonetheless not inconceivable they end second by overhauling Sevilla, who’re 9 factors forward, having performed a sport extra.

Barca haven’t misplaced a match in 90 minutes since being crushed by Bayern Munich on December 8. They have received their final three video games towards Valencia, Athletic Bilbao and Napoli, the latter a very spectacular 4-2 win in Naples that despatched them by means of to the Europa League quarter-finals.

In every of these video games they scored 4 objectives, the primary time Barca have scored 4 in three consecutive matches since 2017, when Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez had been answerable for 11 of the 12.

“We’re creating chances, converting them,” mentioned Xavi. “Scoring goals hasn’t been a problem for us.”

– January additions make distinction –

The ahead line now will not be as sprinkled with star-dust now however Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Adama Traore and Ferran Torres — all of them signed in January — have introduced an impetus and edge that was missing earlier than.

The return to health, and favour, of Ousmane Dembele has been an enormous bonus.

Meanwhile, Pedri is getting higher and higher. “In terms of pure talent, there is nobody better in the world,” mentioned Xavi.

There was a second within the second half towards Athletic Bilbao on Sunday when Pedri escaped from the touchline by rolling a backheel by means of his marker’s legs.

The followers fortunate sufficient to witness it up shut went apoplectic, not a lot celebrating as exploding into suits of laughter, pleasure and disbelief.

For Barca, it was a second to savour, not least as a result of it felt just like the crystallisation of a rising sense in latest weeks that after some of the dispiriting durations in its historical past, the membership is having fun with itself once more.

If Xavi can marry that uplift with a top-four end or successful the Europa League, his opening season as coach may have been a powerful success.

“It’s exciting for me that the fans feel identified with the team,” mentioned Xavi. “You can lose or draw but that’s the most important thing.”

Barca can steal a march on their rivals this weekend given Atletico Madrid go to Real Betis on Sunday in a battle of fifth towards third. Villarreal, additionally within the hunt for the highest 4, are away on Saturday towards Osasuna.

Real Madrid face Real Sociedad in a while Saturday on the Santiago Bernabeu, 4 days earlier than their second leg within the Champions League towards Paris Saint-Germain. Sevilla play at Alaves on Friday.

Fixtures (GMT) 

Friday 

Alaves v Sevilla (2000) 

Saturday 

Osasuna v Villarreal (1300), Espanyol v Getafe (1515), Valencia v Granada (1730), Real Madrid v Real Sociedad (2000) 

Sunday 

Cadiz v Rayo Vallecano (1300), Elche v Barcelona (1515), Celta Vigo v Mallorca (1730), Real Betis v Atletico Madrid (2000)

Monday

Athletic Bilbao v Levante (2000) 



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