Xavi retains 'blind confidence' in Fati and hits out at Barcelona exit talk

By Sports Desk February 11, 2023

Xavi retains "blind confidence" in Ansu Fati and is baffled by talk of the Barcelona forward's future being uncertain.

Fati has made 20 appearances for Barca in LaLiga this season, but 13 of those have come from the bench with two of Raphinha, Ousmane Dembele and Gavi usually preferred out wide of star striker Robert Lewandowski.

Reports this week credited Premier League trio Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal with an interest in Fati, who has scored three league goals and provided three assists in his limited playing time this term.

Speaking ahead of Sunday's trip to Villarreal, Xavi said Spain international Fati can make a big impact now and in the future, questioning why rumours about his future were rife outside the transfer window.

"We expect a lot from him, I have blind confidence in him," Xavi said of the 20-year-old. "I have it with everyone. We have been shaping the squad based on what I wanted. 

"I have confidence with everyone and especially with Ansu. He is a player for the present and for the future. He has to have patience and give everything when he comes in, which he is doing.

"At this moment there is no one transferable. The market has finished, I don't know what we are doing talking about sales, we are playing the season. 

"We are talking about the sale of Ansu, who was not talked about all month in January. I don't understand it and even less in the Barcelona environment. I have a lot of hope for him."

Fati will hope to get a chance to impress at the Estadio de la Ceramica – he has scored four goals in five league appearances against Villarreal, more than against any other opponent. 

Barcelona must juggle two competitions in the coming weeks, with the first leg of a mouthwatering Europa League tie against United coming four days after their meeting with Villarreal.

Xavi, however, is taking things game by game, saying: "There is no priority, we want to win the titles for which we compete. The most important game is always the next one."

Barca are likely to be without captain Sergio Busquets for at least two weeks after the 34-year-old suffered a sprained ankle in last week's 3-0 win over Sevilla.

The Blaugrana great is yet to pen a new contract amid suggestions Inter Miami hope to lure him to Major League Soccer, and Xavi reiterated the midfielder will decide his own future.

"With Busi there will be no problem," Xavi said. "He knows that he is extremely important. He is a living legend and his personal decision will mark his future. Only he decides.

"We go as the president [Joan Laporta], Busi and I and there is a very good vibe. It will depend on Busi, what he wants to do."

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    Mohamed Salah’s seventh-minute penalty had raised hopes of a Barcelona 2019-style comeback but the Egypt international missed a relatively straightforward lob to make it 2-0 towards the end of the first half and they faded badly after the break as they exited the competition 3-1 on aggregate.

    That meant for only the third time in the 21st century, England have no teams in the semi-finals of the Champions League or Europa League/UEFA Cup.

    “We didn’t lose the tie tonight, we lost it at home,” Klopp said after a 3-0 first-leg defeat proved decisive.

    “It’s very easy to congratulate Atalanta because they deserved to go through. When you win a tie against us 3-1 in especially this way you deserve it absolutely.

    “But I loved our game, especially the start. I loved the commitment, desire and power we developed in this game but it was clear we had better score from time to time otherwise it could be tricky over 90 minutes.

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    Salah has looked well short of his clinical best since returning from almost two months out with a hamstring problem.

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    “He is one of most experienced players in the squad. That’s pretty much all.

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    Liverpool could not conjure up another remarkable comeback when they needed it most as their 1-0 victory over Atalanta in Bergamo failed to salvage their Europa League hopes.

    Mohamed Salah’s early penalty raised hopes all the pre-match reminiscence of the famous 4-0 against Barcelona in the 2019 Champions League semi-final would be replayed but their continued struggles in front of goal saw them exit 3-1 on aggregate.

    Jurgen Klopp’s first season ended with defeat in the final of this competition and his last also culminated in more disappointment – the only major trophy he has not won in his nine years at Anfield.

    His greater frustration will be the manner in which his side threw things away a week ago to make the prospect of bouncing back, without the power of Anfield as they had five years ago, a more remote possibility.

    Klopp had urged his players, as he had against Barcelona, to “fail in the most beautiful way” and while some of their play in the opening 45 minutes – driven by a resurgent Trent Alexander-Arnold – was scintillating it brought only one goal.

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    On the positive side having Alexander-Arnold will help on that front and it is unlikely Atalanta had experienced anything like what he produced particularly in the first half.

    Perhaps not surprisingly for a team entering the last-chance saloon, Liverpool set off at a rapid pace but it was not so much the intensity of their approach but the whirlwind they generated with the perpetual motion.

    With Alexander-Arnold making his first start since mid-February after injury the team dynamic changed dramatically as the defender was given licence to roam and create.

    However, it was from more orthodox right side from which he won the penalty with a cross which hit the arm of Matteo Ruggeri after Luis Diaz had raced down the left and cut inside.

    After the inevitable VAR check Salah stepped up to send goalkeeper Juan Musso the wrong way – and in a nice piece of symmetry in the same seventh minute in which Divock Origi sparked the comeback against Barca.

    Unfortunately that is where the similarities ended as Musso was more alert to smother Diaz before he could get a shot off from Cody Gakpo’s one-move turn and pass.

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    Salah has been well below his best since his own return from injury in February and he never looked comfortable when put clean through by Gakpo, playing a key part in the continuing the merry-go-round, and his lob over Musso never looked like troubling the goal.

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    They actually had the better chances of the second half, Ederson and Koopmeiners both shooting straight at Alisson Becker.

    With 25 minutes to go, Klopp gambled and introduced Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez but the fluency of the first half had already disappeared and the changes only compounded that.

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