Barcelona coach Xavi is urging his players to take full advantage of a “golden opportunity” to seal Champions League qualification against a direct rival in Real Betis.
The Blaugrana go to Seville on Saturday sitting second in LaLiga, eight points clear of fifth-placed Betis – who won 1-0 at Camp Nou in December – as the battle for the top four nears its conclusion.
A win for Barca over the Copa del Rey winners would take them to 69 points and ensure they do not finish any lower than fourth, with Betis only able to reach 67 and sixth-placed Real Sociedad 68.
While the 15-point gap to champions Real Madrid highlights how confronting 2021-22 has been for Barca, Xavi has restored a degree of positivity since replacing Ronald Koeman in November.
Barca were ninth in LaLiga after 13 matches ahead of Xavi’s first game in charge, 10 points behind second-placed Sevilla; they now appear favourites to finish ahead of Julen Lopetegui’s side and dethroned champions Atletico Madrid as runners-up.
And Xavi wants his team to clinch Champions League qualification at the first time of asking.
“Hopefully, it’s a golden opportunity to qualify for the Champions League,” he said on Friday. “They’re a direct rival, with great players and a great coach. It will be difficult.
“Football gives us the chance to take sporting revenge. We want to fulfil our goals before the end of the season.
“We are fighting for the minimum, but that’s the way it is. There are two goals, but the most important is to be in the Champions League next season.
“That’s the objective. If we can get second, which would give us the option of entering the Supercopa, then even better.
“We cannot think beyond this, [but] I hope that this summer there will be signings despite the economic situation. We cannot take the European qualification for granted.
“I expect an opponent [Betis] with a lot of confidence. They have won the Copa, they deserved it. I congratulate Betis, [Manuel] Pellegrini and the players, who are having an excellent, historic season. I congratulate them.”
The Barça style is non-negotiable, says Xavi pic.twitter.com/336eKuv3Gr
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 6, 2022
Ever since Xavi’s return to the club, their “philosophy” and “DNA” have drawn a lot of focus, with many supporters feeling Barca’s ethos was diluted under Ernesto Valverde, Quique Setien and Koeman.
Ronald Araujo commented that restoring “the Barca DNA” with Xavi was a chief goal of his after signing a new contract in April, and while the coach acknowledges he cannot change things in an instant, he is confident they are making progress with a top-four finish almost secure.
“It’s not my message, it’s the message of Barca’s history,” Xavi continued. “I don’t have a magic wand, what I’m clear about is that with this model [Barca] won five Champions Leagues and world recognition.
“You leave Spain and they remember [Pep] Guardiola’s Barca, [Lionel] Messi’s Barca, and they remember how we won, not so much what we won.
“We have to wait and be patient. If we review history, there is no doubt.”
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