Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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Barcelona ready to ‘reset’ after loss to Madrid

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández knew exactly what was about to come his way after another big loss to Real Madrid.

There was no point trying to stop the wave of criticism that started immediately after the demoralizing 4-1 loss in the Spanish Super Cup final in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

“Humiliated,” read a front-page headline by the daily Sport on Monday. “A loss that demands changes.”

“Destroyed” said the headline by the Catalan sports daily L’Esportiu.

It was a big blow for Barcelona, and Xavi said the best thing to do was to accept the blame and try to move on as quickly as possible.

“We have to apologize to the fans and endure the criticism, it’s deserved,” he said. “We didn’t have the attitude that we should have had in a final, especially against a rival like Madrid. And I’m the one responsible for it. We must be self-critical and try to reset so we can keep competing for the three remaining titles.”

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Barcelona’s next match is on Thursday in the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey, when it faces third-division club Unionistas. The Catalan club trails second-place Madrid by seven points in the Spanish league, with Girona another point ahead having played an extra game. Barcelona also advanced to the round of 16 in the Champions League, something it hadn’t achieved in two consecutive seasons following the painful departure of Lionel Messi.

Xavi had arrived at the Super Cup under pressure after an unconvincing end to 2023 and start to the near year. Barcelona struggled to beat opponents such as last-place Almeria in the Spanish league and fourth-division club Barbastro in the Copa del Rey.

Xavi said he still felt supported by the club despite the “tough loss” against Madrid, the second in a row against its biggest rival following a 2-1 home defeat in the Spanish league in October. He said he still believed in the project, and noted that he had helped the team recover from similar difficult situations in the past.

Barcelona sporting director Deco, a former Xavi teammate, said after the loss to Madrid that Xavi’s job was safe.

“He continues to have the trust of president (Joan Laporta),” Deco said. “This loss doesn’t change anything.”

After playing Unionistas in the Copa, Barcelona visits Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Real Madrid forward Vinícius Júnior was named the best player of the final after scoring a first-half hat trick to lead Madrid to its 13th Spanish Super Cup title, one less than Barcelona.

But Vinícius also got into a few verbal altercations with Barcelona’s players, and after the match heard from his own coach, Carlo Ancelotti, that he and teammate Jude Bellingham shouldn’t have attempted backheel plays with the game already decided.

“I try to do everything to help my team, but sometimes I end up upsetting others,” the 23-year-old Brazil international said. “I know that I’m not a saint, sometimes I talk too much and try a dribble that I shouldn’t try, but I’m trying to improve so I can be an example to the kids who are watching me. I want to improve, and my coach and my teammates have been helping me every day.”

Vinícius said it bothered him that some players try to provoke the player because of his high profile. Vinícius was at the epicenter of a campaign against racism in soccer last year after he was racially abused during a league match in Valencia.

“I’m sad because everyone wants to fight with me because they know that it’s going to be in the press that ‘Vini said this, or did that,’” he said. “I try my best to stay calm and be focused on the match so I can help my teammates, but sometimes I can’t.”

Vinícius hadn’t scored since returning from an injury while with Brazil’s national team in November. He imitated the trademark celebration of former Madrid great Cristiano Ronaldo, who now plays in Saudi Arabia, after his first goal at the Riyadh stadium on Sunday.

Vinícius’ Madrid will visit Atletico Madrid on Thursday in the last 16 of the Copa del Rey. Madrid defeated Atletico 5-3 in extra time in the Super Cup semifinals last Wednesday in Saudi Arabia. Madrid eliminated Atletico 3-1 in the Copa quarterfinals last season.

In other Copa matchups this week, Getafe hosts Sevilla; Alaves visits Athletic Bilbao; Valencia takes on Celta Vigo; Girona faces Rayo Vallecano; Osasuna hosts Real Sociedad; and second-division club Tenerife welcomes Mallorca.

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