Xavi hails Barcelona's 'winning character' after thrilling fightback victory over Celta

Catalans claim a 3-2 victory, having trailed 2-0, scoring all three goals in the final nine minutes

Joao Cancelo celebrates with Barcelona teammates after scoring the third, and winning, goal against Celta Vigo. EPA
Powered by automated translation

Barcelona manager Xavi hailed his team's "winning character" after fighting back from two goals down to beat Celta Vigo 3-2 on Saturday and move to the top of La Liga.

Jorgen Strand Larsen had given Celta a surprise lead in the 19th minute at the Olympic Stadium, and the visitors looked on course for a famous victory when Anastasios Douvikas struck a second with 14 minutes remaining.

However, Robert Lewandowski led the fightback, scoring Barca's first in the 81st minute before pulling his side level four minutes later. On-loan full back Joao Cancelo then scored the winner in the final minute of regular time.

"We didn't play well (but) came up with the epic, showing winning character," said Xavi, who celebrated his 50th La Liga win as Barcelona manager.

"Historically we have lacked that ... this shows the generational change we have, they didn't give up, two nil down at home.

"I think this generation fights until the end ... what happened today is a tremendous turning point of winning character, we didn't play well but it's about character, faith, the epic."

Celta manager Rafa Benitez set up his team in a typically defensive fashion, unlike Barcelona's recent visitors Real Betis and Royal Antwerp, whose attacking intent played right into Barca's hands.

Barcelona hit 10 goals in their previous two matches, with Xavi saying it was the best they had played in his reign, but this performance was largely at the other end of the spectrum.

"(Winning) tastes good, but is it better than the day against Betis or Antwerp? No, because this is not our path," said Xavi.

"Our path is the other day, playing well, moving the ball around high up the pitch – when we lower our intensity, this team suffers a lot."

Barcelona controlled the opening stages, albeit without creating much danger, but Celta pushed ahead against the run of play after 19 minutes.

Andreas Christensen played Strand Larsen onside after a corner was only partially cleared, and the Norwegian forward finished clinically past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

At the other end, Joao Felix could not control a nicely scooped Frenkie de Jong through pass, before the Dutch midfielder sustained an ankle problem and was replaced by tenacious teenager Gavi.

Spanish reports said De Jong would be sidelined for up to five weeks, potentially missing the clasico clash with Real Madrid at the end of October.

Benitez's side eventually grabbed their second goal through new signing Douvikas, who swept home after running on to Iago Aspas's perfectly weighted ball.

However, Barcelona hit back swiftly, with Lewandowski flicking the ball over the head of Villar and in off the crossbar after Felix cleverly chipped a ball to him over the top.

It sparked a fire previously lacking in Barcelona's performance, with Lewandowski netting the second four minutes later after Cancelo cut the ball back into his path.

Cancelo won Barcelona the game, dispatching Gavi's excellent cross past Villar with the prowess of a striker.

"I was making a lot of technical errors, that's not normal in my game – I have to improve, we all have to improve," Cancelo told Movistar.

"It's always better to play badly and win than to play well and lose, the three points are the most important thing."

Updated: September 24, 2023, 6:23 AM