Xavi: Ref case won’t destabilise Barca in Clasico

Soccer

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said the referee corruption scandal will not destabilise the club as they prepare to face Real Madrid at Camp Nou on Sunday.

Barca can move 12 points clear at the top of LaLiga with a win, but the build-up to the Clasico has revolved around the €7 million paid to the former vice president of the refereeing committee.

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A Spanish court this week agreed to open an investigation into allegations of corruption against Barca following the revelation of payments to ex-ref Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira.

On Friday, Barca president Joan Laporta said the whole saga was born from a “campaign against the club” as he continues to protest the Blaugrana have “never bought match officials nor influence.”

Xavi said he supports Laporta’s comments and he will not let the issue distract from his team’s attempts to claim a first LaLiga title since 2019.

“They will not destabilise us,” he said in a news conference on Saturday. “We are more stable than ever — and they have been trying [to destabilise us] now since Day 1.

“We are completely focused on winning on Sunday and making a big statement in the title race. … We are not thinking about anything else.

“It won’t be definitive if we win, but it would represent a real step forward. I am really up for it, it’s my first Clasico at Camp Nou [as coach] and I love these games.”

Xavi was also once again forced to defend criticism of his side’s performance in the recent 1-0 Copa del Rey semifinal first-leg win over Madrid at the Bernabeu.

Despite winning the game, with the second leg still to come on April 5, Barca faced complaints after having less than 40% of the possession.

“What is it with the [insistence] on the 1-0?” he added when asked if he would take the same result on Sunday. “If I could choose, I prefer a 4-0 or a 5-4, but it’s hard to score goals.

“Those that have not played football at an elite level can’t understand what it’s like to have an opponent in front of you, especially Madrid, the Champions League holders. To beat them 1-0 is a fantastic result.

“One thing is the result and another thing is the style. We are never going to change the style. We will never shut up shop at the back. Another thing is if teams force us back or play through our pressing.

“But we are proactive, we are always going to press high. We want the ball and that idea will not change. And winning 1-0? Barca won their first European Cup 1-0 with goal from [Ronald] Koeman and no one said anything about the style, so I don’t know why now it’s such a big issue.”

Barca have won three of their four meetings with Madrid since Xavi took charge, only losing the league fixture at the Bernabeu this past October.

Those victories include one in the Spanish Super Cup final in January, but it was a 4-0 win toward the end of last season which Barca defender Ronald Araujo credits with helping the club get back on track as they near four years without a league title.

“It was really important for us because we were coming from a slightly tough moment and having lost various games against Madrid,” Araujo told ESPN.

“I think that [4-0] game turned things around and allowed us to say: ‘We are here, we’re on our way back.’ Now [this season], you are seeing the fruits of our hard work.

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“Xavi came in halfway through last season and when you are playing so many games, you can’t [change] much. I think in preseason we were able to work a lot on a defensive level.”

Araujo’s battles with Vinicius Junior have become one of the hallmarks of games between Barca and Madrid. Vinicius has scored 19 goals in all competitions this season but has failed to score in his past three direct match-ups against Araujo, who switches from centre-back to right-back to face the Brazil international.

“For me, right now, he is the No. 1 player in that position, in one-on-one situations,” Araujo said of their duel. “He’s a really good player, he can unbalance teams.

“It’s difficult to play against him, of course, but I have been working hard so that I can be at my best, too, and I’m glad that things have been going well for us in that regard.”

Barca will be without Ousmane Dembele and Pedri for Madrid’s visit. Pedri returned to training this week and was on track to make his comeback from a thigh injury having been sidelined since Feb. 16, but Xavi explained he is not quite ready.

“There was a risk,” he said. “In training on Friday he did not feel 100 percent and, in these games, if you’re not 100 percent, it is best not to force it.”

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