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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Season-defining Napoli conflict an enormous alternative – Barcelona’s Xavi

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Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández labelled Tuesday’s assembly with Napoli the largest sport of the season as far as the Spanish champions goal a primary Champions League quarterfinal since 2020.

Victor Osimhen cancelled out Robert Lewandowski‘s opener in Italy within the first leg to depart the round-of-16 tie degree going into the second leg on the Olympic Stadium.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, extra (U.S.)

It is the primary time Barça have been within the Champions League knockout rounds since 2021 after failing to make it out of the group stage in every of the earlier two seasons, whereas their final quarterfinal look was an notorious 8-2 defeat in opposition to Bayern Munich 4 years in the past.

“It is crucial sport of the season thus far,” Xavi mentioned in his pre-game information convention. “We’re actually up for it. It has been some time since we reached the quarterfinals, so it is an enormous alternative.

“There’s a want to do effectively and to compete in opposition to an ideal opponent. [Napoli] haven’t been in finest type [this season] however the base is identical because the facet that made them Italian champions final 12 months. I hope will probably be a magical night time.”

Xavi has already introduced he’ll step down in the summertime and, with Barça eight factors behind LaLiga leaders Actual Madrid and out of the Copa del Rey, Europe represents his last probability of silverware this season.

Nevertheless, Xavi, who gained LaLiga and the Spanish Supercopa as Barça coach final 12 months, mentioned the main focus must be on getting the membership again amongst Europe’s elite, not him.

“I’m not essential [on Tuesday],” he added. “It is in regards to the membership and the workforce. I have already got an expiry date. I’ll inform the gamers to haven’t any worry.

“It is a possibility to be among the many finest eight groups in Europe. We’ve got to get again there, 4 years later.”

Requested whether or not Barça, five-time winners of the Champions League, most lately in 2015, would be capable of compete with the opposite quarterfinalists, Xavi mentioned: “I see groups with totally different potential, however we are able to compete in opposition to some other workforce.

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“We’re in a tough state of affairs financially. We’ve got not been in a position to do all the pieces we wished to do. We’ve got needed to adapt to those circumstances, however the membership have made an enormous effort since I have been right here.”

Lots has modified because the first leg. Napoli, beneath new supervisor Francesco Calzona who took cost of his first sport in opposition to Barça, have crushed Sassuolo and Juventus and drawn with Torino.

Barça, in the meantime, have misplaced Frenkie de Jong and Pedri to damage, leaving them brief in midfield with Gavi already out. Alejandro Balde, Marcos Alonso and Ferran Torres are additionally nonetheless sidelined.

In defence, Xavi should decide on whether or not to begin the skilled Iñigo Martínez or go together with 17-year-old Pau Cubarsí, who has been an everyday in LaLiga however was left on the bench in Naples.

Since then, Cubarsí has continued to enhance, with Xavi lauding a “captain’s efficiency” in Friday’s 1-0 win over Mallorca as Barça saved a 3rd consecutive clear sheet.

Goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen has been impressed with Cubarsí.

“Talking of the participant on one hand, at his age, he’s doing a spectacular job,” Ter Stegen mentioned within the information convention. “But in addition, on a private degree, he’s very accessible particular person. He’s at all times open to enhance and work onerous.

“He’s at begin of his profession, so all of us hope he continues like this. Think about [how] way more he can enhance. He’s in spectacular type and we’ve to benefit from that.”

Ter Stegen additionally lamented Xavi’s choice to resign on the finish of the season, saying the gamers will give all the pieces for him to exit on a excessive.

“Realizing him, I felt dangerous,” the Germany worldwide added of Xavi’s announcement in January. “We [the players] are answerable for these choices, however we comply with the identical line as at all times.

“He instructed us that this does not cease and we all know that. We’ve got to provide our all, additionally for him. He is a good coach. He has taken us to those heights once more that we struggled to achieve lately.

“Clearly, for me, it is a disgrace he is going, and it is onerous to simply accept he is leaving, as a participant and a pal.”

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