Xavi warns Barcelona lead 'not insurmountable' after opening 11-point gap on Real Madrid

A 1-0 win at Villarreal on Sunday night moves the Catalans further clear of rivals in title race

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Xavi has warned his Barcelona players that now is not the time to lose focus after extending their lead at the top of La Liga to 11 points with a hard-fought victory at Villarreal on Sunday night.

Spanish midfielder Pedri scored the only goal of the game in the 18th minute at El Madrigal to hand Barca their 11th straight win in all competitions. With Real Madrid away in Morocco winning the Fifa Club World Cup, Barcelona took full advantage to extend their lead over the defending league champions.

But Xavi has once again insisted that Real Madrid are still very much title contenders, saying in his post-match press conference: "It is not an insurmountable distance, there are 17 games left. I'm happy, we have a very good run of results, [it's] extraordinary. We are solid, serious, hardworking. These games are costly and it is one more example that the team is solid."

While praising his team's good run of form, the Barca manager was less pleased with their profligacy in front of goal against Villarreal.

"I saw many pre-goal options which did not materialise," Xavi said. "The last pass was missing, the decision making. When you don't do it, it's always the same - you suffer until the end. But we took three vital points for the fight for the league.

"We had more chances, that's enough to score more goals. The team isn't successful in shooting. We're an attacking team, even if we win by the minimum."

Xavi did reserve special praise for two of his players: defender Ronald Araujo and matchwinner Pedri.

After an "extraordinary" performance from Araujo, Xavi said: "The key is the confidence we give him, how he feels. He is happy and very important in the team. He is a complete player."

Barcelona player ratings v Villarreal

Pedri, meanwhile, is "an innate talent that gives us many things ... at a very high level," Xavi said.

Barcelona's attention now turns to continental competition and a Europa League knockout tie on Thursday against Premier League giants Manchester United, who are also on a good run of form.

Xavi believes Barca are facing United "almost at the best moment of the season" given their impressive unbeaten run. "Predicting things in a European match is difficult," he added. "We are excited to do a good job and get through the tie."

The first leg will take place at Camp Nou, with the reverse fixture at Old Trafford set for next Thursday, February 23.

Updated: February 13, 2023, 6:13 AM