Xavi Hernandez says victory in Wednesday’s Spanish Super Cup semi-final against Real Madrid in Riyadh could prove the turning point in Barcelona’s season.
The La Liga rivals meet in the kingdom in the second edition of the tournament to take place in Saudi Arabia, with Spanish champions Atletico Madrid and Copa del Rey runners-up Athletic Bilbao contesting the other last-four clash on Thursday.
Barcelona, who qualified as Copa del Rey winners, have endured a difficult campaign thus far and sit sixth in La Liga after 20 matches, 17 points behind leaders Real Madrid. Last month, they were eliminated from the Champions League at the first group stage for the first time in 21 years.
Wednesday marks the first time Xavi, who in November replaced Ronald Koeman in the Barcelona dugout, faces El Clasico rivals Real as a manager having often starred against them during 17 years as a player for the Nou Camp club.
Speaking to the media in Riyadh on Tuesday, the former midfielder said: “It could be a turning point. Winning a Clasico will put us in the final and give credibility to our project. We have put La Liga aside to focus on a great competition. It’s a title.”
Xavi hopes to have a selection of players returning from injury, including forward Ansu Fati, while midfielder Pedri and new signing Ferran Torres should be available following previously positive Covid-19 tests.
“The match arrives when it arrives,” Xavi said. “Sure, we need more time, it is evident, but we cannot make excuses. Barca always have to compete. For us, Wednesday will be like an exam.
“I have lived and experienced all types of Clasicos. Sometimes Barca were heavy favourites and did not win, and vice versa. Barca has drawn or won at the Santiago Bernabeu in difficult times.
“Tomorrow’s match will be an unpredictable classic. We will try to impose our model of playing and be who we are. It’s not going to be easy, we’ll have the team in the best shape in Spain in front of us.”
Meanwhile, Real midfielder Toni Kroos said on Tuesday that his side have improved significantly since the beginning of the season and therefore go into the match at King Fahd International Stadium in confident mood. The capital club have won 15 of their past 18 matches and sit five points clear at the top of La Liga.
"At the start of the season we won a lot of games without playing well," Kroos said. "Now we have improved and we've done very well in tough games. There are no prizes handed out in January, except the [Spanish Super Cup].
"So we have to keep going because there's a team close to us in La Liga. And, if you slip up, they'll be there and if we think it's all wrapped up we'll be in trouble."