Xavi disputes drop in Barcelona form this season

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández disputed that his team’s performances are not as good as last season, although he acknowledged Real Madrid are in better form ahead of Sunday’s Spanish Supercopa final.

Barça won the Supercopa and LaLiga last year but go into this weekend’s Clásico showdown in Saudi Arabia seven points behind Madrid, who are unbeaten in 20 matches, in the league table.

– Stream Supercopa on ESPN+: Barca vs. Real Madrid (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET)

However, Xavi disagreed that Barça’s levels have dropped this term and even suggested their football has improved.

“I don’t agree,” he said in a news conference when asked about the difference in displays this season in comparison to the previous campaign, when they won the title by 10 points.

“We played very well against Sevilla, Athletic [Club], Real Madrid — even losing, we deserved much more against them — and against Girona. In the Champions League, we were very good against Porto.

“I would say we have played very well this season, even better than last year, but one thing is my analysis and another is yours [in the media].

“Madrid are perhaps in slightly better form, that is the reality, but there is no favourite. It’s 50-50; it’s a Clásico. It’s the first title of four we have in play this season and we are where we wanted to be.”

Barça will be without Raphinha on Sunday after he injured his hamstring in the semifinal win over Osasuna, while João Cancelo is also a doubt. Marc-André ter Stegen, Marcos Alonso, Iñigo Martínez and Gavi are also missing.

However, Pedri returned from injury against Osasuna, which could prompt Xavi to return to a four-man midfield, with the Barça coach promising to stick to Johan Cruyff’s principles against Madrid in an attempt to replicate last year’s 3-1 win over Los Blancos in the final.

“The identity has to be to play with the Barça DNA, to take the ball off Madrid and to dominate,” he added. “Regardless of whether [we pick] three, four or five midfielders, the idea does not change.

“Different names may [come in] but it is always the same idea. Our DNA does not change, which is what Johan instilled 30 years ago. We are loyal to Cruyffismo.”

Sunday’s meeting in Riyadh will be Xavi’s eighth Clásico as Barça boss, with Carlo Ancelotti in charge of Madrid for all of them. Barça have won four and Madrid have won four, including the last two, and Xavi is full of respect for his opposite number.

“He is one of best coaches ever, his honours are there for all to see,” he said. “He has had success in every country he has worked in. You will not see anyone talk ill of Ancelotti. He is a gentleman, is always respectful and is an example for me. I have extraordinary respect for him.”

Ancelotti also praised Xavi’s performance as Barça coach so far, despite the criticism he has faced this season.

“I think Xavi is doing an optimal job at Barcelona,” he said in a separate news conference. “It’s true that he doesn’t have my experience, but when you start a job, you don’t have experience.

“It helps that he was one of the best midfielders in the world. It’s a different job but the kind of player he was and how he saw football helps him.”

Two goals from Jude Bellingham gave Madrid a late 2-1 win at Montjuic in LaLiga in the first meeting between the two teams this season after Barca had dominated the first hour of the match.

“It’s something we’ve analysed,” Ancelotti said. “The game at Montjuic wasn’t good, our strategy in the first half wasn’t good, above all defensively. Obviously we’ll take that into account for [Sunday].”

Ancelotti also insisted that last year’s final defeat wasn’t on his mind, a result that Xavi has said bred the confidence that allowed Barça to go on and win a first league title since 2019.

“Real Madrid don’t go for revenge,” he said. “Madrid go all out because it’s what this shirt and this club demands. No revenge. They’re an opponent we respect a lot, a strong opponent who’ve beaten us, but the hunger is always the same.”

Ancelotti refused to say which of his goalkeepers would start the final — having picked Kepa Arrizabalaga ahead of Andriy Lunin in Wednesday’s semifinal against Atletico Madrid — and confirmed that that game’s MVP, right-back Dani Carvajal, was fit after missing training on Friday.

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