Xavi: Champs Barca deserve respect in title race


Coach Xavi Hernandez of FC Barcelona consoles Joao Cancelo of FC Barcelona who leaves the pitch with an injury during the LaLiga EA Sports match between Las Palmas v FC Barcelona at the Gran Canaria Stadium on January 4, 2024 in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Spain.

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández called for "respect for the reigning champions" as his side came from behind to beat Las Palmas 2-1 to remain seven points behind joint LaLiga leaders Real Madrid and Girona.

Ilkay Gündoğan scored a stoppage-time penalty to seal the win after Ferran Torres had cancelled out former Barça striker Munir El Haddadi's opener for Las Palmas at the Estadio Gran Canaria.

"Of course," Xavi said in his post-game news conference when asked if Barça were still in the title race. "Did you see this week's games in LaLiga? It's hard for everyone to win in this league.

"Girona [won] in the last minute, Madrid in the 80th minute from a corner and us in the last moment with a penalty. There are arguments for Barça to win LaLiga, the first being that we are the reigning champions, so [give some] respect to the reigning champions."

Barça went into Thursday's game fifth in LaLiga, outside of the Champions League places, and at the time of Munir's goal they faced the prospect of slipping 10 points adrift of Madrid and Girona. They ended the match, which marked the halfway stage in the campaign, third.
"If it was 10 points, it would be more difficult [to win the league], of course, but you are always negative," Xavi responded when asked about the possibility of falling further behind the front-runners.

"It makes me laugh. You are not the same with other coaches. We have won the game so why ask that question? Why speak about what did not happen? It's seems completely absurd to me."

The win was slightly marred by an early injury to João Cancelo, although Xavi is hopeful he will not lose the right-back for a long time.

"He's OK, in theory it's his knee," the Barça boss explained. "It doesn't seem serious. We will see [Friday] when he has tests."

Barça have now won 15 points from losing positions in LaLiga this season, second only to Girona (19 points), and have won 19 points thanks to goals in the last 15 minutes of matches, a league-high.

"Once again we have had to come back from behind," Xavi noted before looking at the positives. "But no one had come back against Las Palmas [this season] and we have done it, which has a lot of merit.

"We erred with the pass in behind in the first half. They had a high line and we could not find the space behind, which was something we had worked on specifically all week.

"At half-time, a goal down, I told the players we would win 3-1 if we just improved our timing and quality with the final ball. It was about being more mature and having that extra quality, that was it. We won 2-1 but we had a chance for the third goal."
The chance for the third goal fell to Vitor Roque on his Barça debut. The young Brazilian striker struck wide in the final stages of the game after being introduced for the final 15 minutes with the score at 1-1.

"He's going to give us a lot," Xavi said. "He can cause problems going in behind when there's space like today, which is why I changed Robert [Lewandowski] in the second half.

"Ferran's goal gave us wings and the changes worked well after the break. There is a lot of competition in attack now with Roque, Lewandowski, Ferran, João [Felix], Raphinha and Lamine [Yamal]. They have to understand that there will be minutes for everyone."

Barça now turn their attention to the Copa del Rey and a trip to lower league side Barbastro on Sunday before they fly to Saudi Arabia for the Spanish Super Cup, where they will meet Osasuna in the semifinal next Thursday.

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