Jordi Alba feels "singled out" at Barcelona and says he is "killed" by his critics every time he has a bad performance.

The Spain international is approaching a decade at Camp Nou and remains a regular for Barca, who have endured another difficult campaign.

He has featured 408 times for the Catalan giants in all competitions since his debut in August 2012 and has helped the club to 15 trophies.

But Alba has come in for criticism of late, with Barca losing to Real Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals before exiting the Copa del Rey to Athletic Bilbao. 

After impressing in Sunday's 1-0 win over Deportivo Alaves, a game in which he led the way for touches (112) and fouls won (four), Alba expressed his frustration.

"I have felt singled out for many years, it is not the first time it has happened to me," he told Movistar+. "I accept the criticism that there is in this circus. Criticism will always be there, I have assumed it.

"If I play a good game they won't talk about me, if I don't play well like the other day [against Athletic], I admit it, they will kill me. I have accepted it.

"I don't care because I have respect from my team-mates and from all the coaching staff I've had.

"It seems that there are only 'veterans' in Barcelona. There has been talk of veterans for four or five years, and I was 28, damn it. But I've always accepted it."

 

Alba has started 23 games under Ronald Koeman and successor Xavi this season – only Marc-Andre ter Stegen (27) and Sergio Busquets (29) have done so more times.

No defender has more assists than Alba's four in LaLiga this term, while his 1.62 chances created per 90 minutes is the fourth-best among those to have played more than once.

Responding to Alba's comments following the win over Alaves, Xavi praised the 32-year-old for learning to live with the weight that comes with playing for Barcelona.

"Alba was criticised and he played a great game," Xavi said at his post-match news conference. "At Barca, the shirt is 20 kilos more than at another club."

Barcelona head coach Xavi says Sunday's 1-0 win at Alaves shows that there is life in the Blaugrana yet.

Frenkie de Jong netted an 88th-minute winner to clinch the points for Xavi's side, who move up to fifth in LaLiga, one point behind fourth-placed Atletico Madrid.

Barcelona bossed possession (76-24 percent) and generated 10-6 shots with 4-2 on target, getting their just reward with the Dutchman's late goal.

"It cost us a lot, but they were three crucial points and the team needed and deserved them," Xavi told reporters. "The sun has risen again, this victory shows that there is life."

He added: "It means a lot of confidence, continuing to believe in what we do."

Barcelona will enjoy a break before their next league game against Spanish champions Atletico Madrid on Sunday 6 February.

“We are in the fight, one point away from the Champions League," Xavi said. "These days are going to come in handy. They will come in very handy."

The Barcelona boss was also complimentary towards teenager Pedri, who has only just returned to the fold following a thigh injury. Pedri made his first LaLiga start since August.

"He’s a marvellous little player, and at 19, to do everything well is spectacular," Xavi said.

"How he looks in possession, how he perceives the game, he is excellent and the model player. He can lead by character, quality, ambition, it’s great to have him back in the team."

Xavi has told Ousmane Dembele to stop prevaricating and either sign a new Barcelona deal or find another club by the end of January.

According to Xavi, there is "no alternative" for the French forward, who has entered the final six months of his contract at Camp Nou.

Dembele has struggled since joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 for an initial €105million, and this month's transfer window could be a final chance for the club to recoup some of that outlay.

Barcelona director of football Mateu Alemany told Dembele this week he must leave "immediately", which prompted the 24-year-old to issue an angry riposte on social media.

"I am not a man who cheats and even less a man who has a habit of giving in to blackmail," Dembele wrote.

Barcelona are fed up and want a resolution one way or the other, with Xavi seemingly willing to keep Dembele and let this storm pass if he agrees to extend his contract before the end of the month.

"Ousmane's situation hasn't changed," said Xavi on Saturday. "He has to decide. He is training well, but he knows his situation perfectly. There is no more debate, I think I was clear. It depends on him now. There are still days left and there is no alternative."

 

The situation is one that Barcelona could do without as they reel from a Copa del Rey exit at Athletic Bilbao's hands, and the crushing blow of losing teenage forward Ansu Fati yet again to a hamstring injury.

Fati could be out of action for months after the substitute was substituted during the Bilbao game, seemingly in tears as he left the pitch.

Xavi said the plan, agreed with club doctor Ricard Pruna, was for Fati to play for half an hour, so when the cup game went to extra time it conflicted with Barca's intentions.

Fati, who entered the game just after the hour mark, came off injured in the 96th minute, an apparent recurrence of the problem that had recently kept him out for two months.

"Ansu is very affected," said Xavi.

On Monday, a meeting will take place to decide on the next course of action, with Barca reportedly keen for Fati to go down the route of surgery.

"It is a relapse," Xavi said. "Pruna told me that he was to play for half an hour and extra time disrupted our plans. We are going to make a specific plan for him. On Monday we will have a meeting to decide what to do. 

"I'm not a doctor, but we have to mentally allow him to recover. [We need to] let him forget about the injuries and make a specific plan. We have lost an impressive footballer and it affects us all, but he is the main victim. We must do an exhaustive follow-up so that he does not injure himself more.

"It's a shame. We are sad because we have tried to take good care of him and he has been injured again. This is part of football. We are suffering major setbacks and this is very serious."

Fati previously spent 10 months on the sidelines due to a serious knee injury, resuming his Barcelona career in September this season.

Despite his limited action, Fati is Barcelona's second-highest scorer in 2021-22 with five goals. They have come in just 456 minutes of on-pitch action, with Fati out-performing his expected goals (xG) score of 1.92.

On Sunday, Barca travel to face Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga, with Fati definitively ruled out and Dembele also expected to be sidelined by the club.

Alaves have not won any of their last 10 LaLiga games against Barcelona (D2 L8), conceding 3.1 goals on average in these matches.

Barcelona have avoided defeat in their last seven away LaLiga games against Alaves (W4 D3), keeping a clean sheet in six of them. This is their longest unbeaten run at Mendizorrotza in the top flight, but this season's Barcelona are a different proposition, with the loss of Lionel Messi and to a lesser extent Antoine Griezmann meaning they lack presence on the road.

Indeed, Barcelona have won only two of their last 10 away games in LaLiga (D6 L2), beating Villarreal in November and Mallorca earlier this month. That follows a run of 12 wins from their previous 14 away games in the competition (D1 L1).

The likes of Sergio Busquets have come in for flak from supporters of the club, and Xavi says the veteran members of the team must justify their selection.

"The shots go towards the sacred cows, and they have to understand it," Xavi said. "The commitment of the veterans is spectacular, unquestionable, but now it depends on the performance. Until recently we didn't have many alternatives."

The former Al Sadd coach said he remains "optimistic" about Barcelona's prospects, and said there could be additions to his squad before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

"We are working on it, in several areas," he said.

Xavi admitted his Barcelona team failed to match the intensity of Athletic Bilbao as they tumbled out of the Copa del Rey at the last-16 stage, another blow in a dismal season.

Barcelona may yet claw their way into the Champions League places in LaLiga, but their trophy pursuit looks doomed to failure. Beaten by Real Madrid last week in the Supercopa semi-finals, a 3-2 defeat after extra time against Athletic on Thursday was another bitter pill for head coach Xavi and his players.

Add in the blow of losing substitute Ansu Fati to what Barcelona described as "a femoral biceps injury in his left thigh", and it was a calamitous night at San Mames for the visitors.

Barca are out of the LaLiga title reckoning, and Europa League play-off opponents Napoli will surely fancy their chances of taking the Blaugrana's scalp on this latest evidence.

The defeat in Bilbao, where home captain Iker Muniain capped an inspiring performance with two goals, means Barcelona have failed to reach at least the quarter-final stage of the Copa del Rey for the first time since 2009-10.

This is also the first season since 2003-04, when they were in the UEFA Cup, that Barcelona have not featured in the Champions League knockout rounds. A group-stage exit saw to that.

Barcelona got what they deserved in Bilbao. The expected goals (xG) calculation, based on each team's chances, showed the gulf between these sides was wider than the final scoreline.

Athletic had an xG of 3.33, while Barcelona's was a miniscule 0.36. The home side had 19 shots to just seven by Xavi's team, and the 66.7 per cent of possession that Barcelona enjoyed was mostly lacking in end product.

Success has flooded into the Catalan giants in recent years, and Barcelona beat Athletic 4-0 in the Copa final only last April. Lionel Messi scored twice in that game, and Antoine Griezmann also netted. Both have now long since departed.

"In summary, I think Athletic's intensity surpassed ours," said Xavi. "In duels, in second balls. They lived each ball as if it were their last."

Athletic led through Muniain and Inigo Martinez, but Ferran Torres, with his first Barcelona goal, and Pedri, deep into stoppage time, replied for Barcelona.

A handball by Jordi Alba was punished by Muniain from the penalty spot near the end of the first half of extra time, and this time Athletic did not relinquish their lead.

"With Pedri's goal it seemed like it was our moment," Xavi said, speaking at a post-match news conference.

Muniain's penalty told the coach different, however.

"It seems that when things are heads or tails, we always get tails. We have to change the dynamic," Xavi added.

 

He was not minded to contest the penalty decision after the final whistle. Alba was struck on the arm by Nico Williams' cross, and with VAR guidance it was an obvious spot-kick.

Former Al Sadd boss Xavi, who took over the Barcelona top job in November, said his team would "fight" for their remaining objectives.

It remains to be seen when Fati is seen again in action. He looked distressed, tearful, on leaving the pitch barely half an hour after entering the action. That setback compounded the misery of a regrettable evening.

Speaking to Barca TV, Xavi said: "We need to continue believing in this project, continue in LaLiga and continue in the Europa League. This is the way, continue to keep going and working hard."

Ousmane Dembele has reacted with fury after Barcelona director of football Mateu Alemany ordered the winger to find a new club "immediately".

French winger Dembele has struggled at Camp Nou since joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 for an initial €105million.

A string of injury setbacks have hampered his progress, although Barca head coach Xavi recently claimed Dembele could become the "best in the world" in his position.

Dembele's contract runs until the end of the season, meaning this month's transfer window could be the last opportunity for the club to get back any money on their investment.

Barcelona do not want to lose such an expensive signing on a free transfer, and to that end they have been looking to extend his deal, but Alemany said all offers to Dembele "have been continuously rejected by his agents".

Alemany added, speaking to Barca TV on Thursday: "It seems obvious that the player does not want to continue at Barcelona and is not committed to our future project."

This has incensed Dembele, with Alemany going on to say: "We told him and his agents that he must leave the club immediately because we want to have players committed to the project. We expect a transfer to take place before January 31."

Dembele has been linked with clubs including Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Newcastle.

Responding to Barcelona's stance, Dembele issued a long statement on Instagram, saying he would not be "giving in to any blackmail".

The 24-year-old said he had put up with four years of reading lies about himself, declaring that claims had been made "with the sole purpose of harming me". He said it had been a mistake that he had not spoken out sooner.

"From today, I will answer with sincerity and without giving in to any blackmail," Dembele wrote. "I am 24 years old and like any man, I have faults, imperfections. I have known complex moments, injuries, I have been affected by COVID. Without any training, the coach called on me and I always answered present... without batting an eyelid.

"I appreciate the chance to do the best job in the world. Furthermore, my message is clear. I forbid anyone to pretend that I am not involved in the sports project. I forbid anyone to attribute to me intentions that I never had. I forbid anyone to speak in my place, [or] in place of my agent in whom I have complete confidence.

"Still under contract, I am fully concerned and at the disposal of my club, my coach. I have always given my all for my team-mates as well as for all the supporters... and this won't stop now."

Xavi has also told Dembele to sign or be sold, and the player who was acquired after the big-money departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain may have kicked his last ball for Barcelona. He was left out of the squad for Thursday's Copa del Rey last-16 tie with Athletic Bilbao.

Former Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann responded with fire and heart emojis to Dembele's passionate statement.

"I am not a man who cheats and even less a man who has a habit of giving in to blackmail," Dembele added.

"As you know, there are negotiations. I let my agent take care of this, it is his field. My field is football, simply playing football, sharing moments of joy with my team-mates, with our supporters. Above all, let's focus on the essentials: WINNING."

Barcelona coach Xavi has issued an ultimatum to Ousmane Dembele over his future: either sign a new contract or leave the club this month.

The Catalans have been in discussion with the winger for months about an extension to his deal, which expires at the end of the season.

Dembele has struggled badly with injury troubles since his move from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 for an initial €105million, which have hampered his attempts to establish himself as a key player at Camp Nou.

Xavi, though, has been eager to see the France international stay at the club despite him playing just six times in LaLiga this season and in only 52 per cent of all Barca's league games since his arrival.

This week, Dembele's agent Moussa Sissoko told RMC Sport that he would not bow to "pressure" from Barca over his client's future and accused the club of making "threats of no longer playing in the side" rather than engaging in productive talks.

It appears Xavi and Barca's directors have had enough of the situation and the message to Dembele is clear.

 

"What I can say is that we are making a difficult decision. If he does not renew, the club has decided they will make a decision," Xavi told reporters ahead of Thursday's Copa del Rey clash with Athletic Bilbao.

"We've waited a long time. We have been in talks with him for five months.

"Either he renews or we look for an exit. In the end, the club has decided that if he does not renew, a solution must be found.

"We have to do what is best for the club. [Sporting director] Mateu Alemany has been talking with him and his representatives for months.

"It's not a pleasant situation for anyone, but what's clear is that the interests of the club must prevail here.

"He told me he wants to stay. It's a question for him. I've been really clear; I can't be more concise. Either he renews, or we look for an exit. It's all or nothing."

Xavi also made it clear he considers it a priority to extend the contract of defender Ronald Araujo, which expires at the end of next season.

"His renewal is a priority. He's a really important piece. He has a winning character," Xavi said.

"I hope an agreement is reached because he's a player for the present and the future. Ronald is a boy who adds a lot."

Ousmane Dembele's agent claims Barcelona have threatened to bench the winger for the rest of the season if he does not sign a new contract.

Dembele entered the final six months of his deal on January 1, meaning he is eligible to discuss potential moves to other clubs for next season.

Barca, especially coach Xavi, have been open in their desire to see Dembele commit himself to the club, despite his time there being largely disappointing since joining from Borussia Dortmund for an initial €105million in 2017.

But reports suggest Barca have grown frustrated with the lack of movement, with Xavi previously urging Dembele to "make an effort" in talks.

Now, the likelihood of an agreement may have diminished even further after Dembele's agent accused Barca of refusing to negotiate and instead turning to "threats".

"It's applying pressure, and that doesn't work with people like us," Dembele's representative Moussa Sissoko told French broadcaster RMC Sport.

"Maybe it can work with agents who are cosy with Barcelona, but that's not the case, I am here to defend the interests of my player.

"We are not here to fuel the debates on social networks, but the truth must be told. Yes, we have demanding demands, but we have already shown that Ousmane's career choices are not dictated by the money, otherwise he wouldn't be here.

"If Barcelona wanted to negotiate, they could have tried to come to the table with us to discuss, except that there is no discussion, just threats of no longer playing in the side, and that's forbidden. We will assert Ousmane Dembele's rights if necessary.

"We don't know what we're going to do, nothing has been finalised, but [Barca's] hierarchy alone are losing Ousmane.

"From the start, we have shown that we want to discuss, with conditions of course, but without closing the door."

Xavi believes Barcelona are "on the right track" despite their 3-2 Supercopa de Espana semi-final defeat to Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Federico Valverde scored the decisive goal in extra time after Ansu Fati had equalised with seven minutes of normal time remaining.

Vinicius Junior had earlier put Los Blancos ahead but Luuk de Jong restored parity before the interval, the Netherlands international scoring in three straight games for the first time since arriving in Spain.

Karim Benzema restored Madrid's lead before Fati brought Barca back on level terms.

Barca had 20 shots in the defeat, with six on target – their highest tally in an El Clasico since April 2006, when they had 35 under Frank Rijkaard.

Xavi was pleased with his side's display and said his players could be proud of their efforts.

"I think we were better than Madrid in terms of play, dominance, and we had the game under control," he told Movistar.

"We took a lot of risks and we knew how to control transitions, and this is the way to compete.

"In the end we had the match and if you toss a coin and it comes up heads, nobody would have said anything, but tails came up.

"We can go away proud because we have competed against them and it is a step forward despite the result. 

"We are on the right track and while it was not a turning point in terms of the result, it was in terms of how we played and how we felt."

The result was Madrid's fifth consecutive win over Barca in all competitions – only the second time they have achieved this after a run of seven straight wins between 1962 and 1965.

Despite that, Gerard Pique was pleased with Barca's performance and predicts there are brighter days ahead for the Catalan giants.

"I think we competed very well," he said. "It is not the result we expected; losing against Madrid hurts but we are closer to winning. We need to win; we need that definitive step.

"We played well. We took risks and we have gone for the game. They arrived in the area with many players and they scored a goal but playing like this we are going to win.

"We should leave with our heads held high after competing like that against Madrid."

Carlo Ancelotti insisted Real Madrid are not favourites to beat Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana and would be worried if his players thought otherwise.

Wednesday's Clasico in Riyadh will determine who will face either Athletic Bilbao or Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa final on Sunday.

Madrid were 2-1 winners at Camp Nou in the previous meeting in LaLiga in October, and the gap between the sides has only widened since.

Los Blancos sit top of the league table after 21 matches, with Barca in sixth, 17 points behind their great rivals.

Ancelotti, though, thinks that will count for little with a place in the final up for grabs.

"I'd be worried if the players thought we were favourites, but they don't think that. They think we have to do everything to win," the Madrid coach said on Tuesday.

"These games are always balanced, however much of a gap there is in the table, just as the league game was balanced.

"When you play a game, you can win, draw or lose. The game will choose a winner. We have to play at our best level. We play against a team who are strong and who have the same objective, which is to reach the final."

 

This will be Xavi's first Clasico as Barca coach, the former Blaugrana midfielder having taken over from Ronald Koeman just two weeks after the 2-1 home defeat.

Although Xavi has earned praise for his use of young players and for striving to restore a typical style to Barca's play, results have been disappointing, with the Catalans having won only five of 11 matches since his appointment.

Still, Ancelotti believes they are showing signs of progress in their performances.

"I like them because they're a team with an identity, in the way Barca always have. I think they're a team who are going to improve with [Xavi's] contribution," he said.

"They have experienced players like [Sergio] Busquets, [Gerard] Pique or [Jordi] Alba, who always give a lot to the team. But the youngsters they're pushing forward stand out a lot, like Gavi or Nico, who can have a great future."

Barcelona boss Xavi was "angry and upset" after his side conceded a late equaliser at Granada on Saturday.

The Blaugrana were on the verge of a crucial victory that would have seen them leap up to third in the LaLiga table, only for an 89th minute Antonio Puertas goal to cancel out Luuk de Jong's opener.

Speaking after the game, Xavi was frustrated with dropping two points as well as having to play the final 10 minutes a man down following Gavi's dismissal for a second yellow card.

"We cannot leave happy. We are angry and upset," he told reporters. "We also lack experience, it's clear.

"I'm not talking about the referees, I'm talking about the consequence of the expulsion. We are with one less, we have to go back [be defensive] and it costs us because we are not used to it.

"Experience and craft are gained with matches. [Gavi] is a player who gives us a lot."

Xavi insisted that his team had to look at themselves following the draw, adding: "We lost very silly balls. We must be self-critical.

"You have to do more things: get higher, create opportunities. If we want to grow we have to do more things and grow from now.

"[The result] is not the merit of [Granada], it is our demerit."

De Jong's header just before the hour was his second in two LaLiga games, having scored the winner at Real Mallorca last week, and Xavi suggested that the Dutchman might still have a role to play despite strong rumours that he had been on the verge of having his loan from Sevilla cut short to lessen the wage bill.

"I have already told you that he is part of the squad, like everyone else," he added. "If offers come and we have to square the salary cap, it is the situation that exists. But Luuk is a professional and he has helped us a lot. I am happy for him."

Barcelona missed the chance to go third in LaLiga as Antonio Puertas' last-gasp strike salvaged a 1-1 draw for Granada on Saturday.

After Barca had struggled to create first-half chances, Sevilla loanee Luuk de Jong rose to head a Dani Alves cross past a helpless Luis Maximiano to put Barca in front in the second half.

Gavi's late sending off put Xavi's side under pressure and with time running out, Puertas volleyed past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to deny Barca all three points.

While the Catalan giants have lost just once in 10 La Liga games, they sit only sixth in the table in the battle to secure a Champions League spot.

Ansu Fati is set to make his return to action with Barcelona in the upcoming Supercopa de Espana semi-final against Real Madrid.

The 19-year-old forward has had a particularly difficult time of it in the past 14 months, managing just five league appearances due to injury.

Fati missed the majority of the 2020-21 season after tearing the internal meniscus of his left knee in November 2020, an injury that ultimately kept him out until September 2021.

But his return then was brief – he featured five times in LaLiga, scoring three goals, before then hurting his hamstring almost exactly a year to the day after suffering that initial knee injury.

Even during his short-lived return, Fati highlighted his importance to Barca – he averaged a goal every 71 minutes, the best record at the club this season (min. 200 minutes played) and was ruthlessly clinical, those three strikes coming from just 0.85 expected goals (xG).

Fati's xG overperformance of 2.15 is comfortably the best in the Barca team this season. Their current top scorer, Memphis Depay, has underperformance in relation to non-penalty xG (6.0 xG, five goals).

But despite the evidence showing just how much of an asset Fati can be, Xavi will resist the urge to play him against Granada on Saturday, instead holding him back for a few extra days in order to feature in Wednesday's Clasico in Riyadh.

"If it were the other way around, playing Madrid tomorrow and the Supercopa against Granada, I would do exactly the same," Xavi told reporters.

"Ansu is fine, [but] I had some doubts that he would be able to play tomorrow's game. For now I prefer to wait because the last experience he had was a relapse.

 

"We love Ansu 100 per cent, and knowing that he is about to return is spectacular news for us. He has worked very well, with a very strong ambition, capable of making a difference.

"He is a fundamental player, but we do not want to take risks because we would lose him for the rest of the season. I prefer to wait until he is at full capacity – it's a question of physical condition."

Xavi was speaking a few hours after Philippe Coutinho's loan exit to Aston Villa was confirmed, a move that will go down well with many Barca supporters who had become increasingly frustrated by the Brazilian.

But while Coutinho may never have been the most popular player among fans, Xavi commended his attitude.

"It says a lot about him that he wanted to leave to have minutes," Xavi said. "His salary has been lowered. He is a great professional, who wants to succeed.

"Here he was struggling and he has looked for a solution. All the players are being very professional. I am delighted with those who play, but also with those who do not. They are exemplary."

Barca had been eager to move Coutinho on in part due to his massive salary, with the club needing to get players off the wage bill in order to register new additions.

Ferran Torres still cannot be registered following his move from Manchester City, though Xavi assured fans the club is doing everything it can to ensure the Spain international can play once he returns from his coronavirus-enforced absence.

"Today [Torres] has tested positive again. Regardless of whether we can register him or not, in principle he will not play [against Granada]," he continued.

"[Barca director] Mateu Alemany is working 24 hours a day so that Ferran can play when he tests negative for coronavirus. I am optimistic, I trust in the club management."

Xavi is "very optimistic" that Barcelona can further strengthen in the January transfer window, but is unsure whether forward Ousmane Dembele will remain at Camp Nou beyond this season.

Despite their well-publicised financial issues, with debts rising above €1.2billion last year, Barca have brought in Ferran Torres from Manchester City this month for an initial €55million (£46.7m).

Barca will be unable to register Torres until they have offloaded some other players as they would risk exceeding their salary cap, yet other big-name stars continue to be linked with a switch to Camp Nou.

Among those touted as a target for the Catalans is Erling Haaland, with club president Joan Laporta this week refusing to rule out a potential move for the in-demand Borussia Dortmund striker.

Responding to rumours regarding his side's interest in Haaland, Laporta told the football world to "get ready" because Barcelona "are back".

Xavi shares Laporta's enthusiasm and believes the arrival of Torres, who was presented at Camp Nou on Monday, will galvanise supporters following a poor first half to the campaign.

"I'm very close to [Laporta] and I'm very optimistic. I like his ambition," Xavi said at a news conference previewing Wednesday's Copa del Rey last-32 tie with Linares Deportivo. 

"We are working to return. We are close to the Champions League positions. It is not easy, but we are working hard to give Barca what it deserves. We are on the right track.

"The signing of Ferran Torres makes the fans breathe as well. We are working practically 24 hours a day. We must follow the president's lead. It is a positive message to say that we have returned.

"If we sink into misery, it does not help. We must be positive. The president leads the way."

 

Haaland has scored 76 goals in 75 games for Dortmund since making his debut in January 2020, a tally bettered by only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (103 goals in 87 games) among players from Europe's top five leagues in all competitions.

Alvaro Morata, currently on loan at Juventus from Atletico Madrid, has been touted as another potential option for Barca to bolster their attack, which was depleted by the high-profile exit of Lionel Messi in August.

Asked about the links with Haaland and Morata, Xavi said: "I don't want to talk about hypotheses, only the players we have here. 

"They are both great players but they are not ours. If Morata signs for Barcelona then I will answer questions on him."

Barca cannot realistically bring in more players until others make way, however, with the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele potentially on their way out.

Coutinho has started just five games all season, while Dembele is into the final five months of his deal and is officially free to sign a pre-contract agreement with clubs from abroad.

The France international's time in Catalonia has been hampered by a succession of injury setbacks, but when fit he has made an impact and averages 0.6 goals or assists per 90 minutes in LaLiga, which is a similar amount to Antoine Griezmann (0.67) and team-mate Memphis Depay (0.66).

"We have to wait for Dembele," Xavi said. "I'm calm as I can't do anything else. Dembele has to make an effort and think about his future – it depends on him.

"As for Philippe, I've not spoken with him. He's a professional and helps us a lot. But in order for us to have entries, there must be exits."

Xavi also confirmed Barca are hopeful of having Dani Alves, another recent recruit, registered ahead of the midweek cup tie with third-tier Linares Deportivo.

Alves' only appearance since early September was in a friendly against Boca Juniors last month, but Xavi expects the experienced full-back to play a big part in the remainder of Barca's campaign.

"I see him very well. He is spectacular in training, with a lot of intensity and a professionalism," Xavi said. 

"He will help us a lot with his arrival on the wing. He is 38 years old, but as is training will help us in many games. He is a superb player and I hope he can play every three days for us."

Xavi has suggested Luuk de Jong could stay at Barcelona beyond the January transfer window after firing his side to "three golden points" against Real Mallorca. 

De Jong's loan from Sevilla was expected to be terminated this month ahead of the forward joining fellow LaLiga side Cadiz for the remainder of the season.

However, the Netherlands international was required against Mallorca on Barca's return to action on Sunday due to a spate of COVID-19 cases in the Blaugrana camp.

After twice hitting the woodwork, De Jong headed in his second league goal of the campaign in the 44th minute to seal a 1-0 victory for Barca in Palma.

In doing so, he became the first Barca player other than Lionel Messi to hit the frame of the goal twice in a single LaLiga game since August 2019.

And with Xavi still waiting on other players to return to fitness, the recently appointed coach hinted De Jong may yet remain at Camp Nou for the rest of 2021-22.

"He is an example of a professional," Xavi said at his post-match news conference. "It is said that he can go out, but he works, he sacrifices himself. He is a hell of a professional. 

"I am happy with him. Of course I am contemplating him staying because today he has been useful to us. He is an example for everyone. 

"Depending on how you train, you will play. We will see the future. We will see if there are exits and entrances. But they are all hypotheses."

 

De Jong has scored eight headed goals in all competitions since the 2019-20 season, a record surpassed only by Karim Benzema (13), Ante Budimir (11) and Youssef En-Nesyri (nine) among LaLiga players in all competitions.

It was also Barca's seventh headed goal in LaLiga this season, which is the most of any side and the same number they managed across 38 league matches last time out.

That match-winning moment helped Barca to just a second victory in six games across all competitions as they moved fifth in LaLiga and within a point of fourth-placed Atletico Madrid.

Xavi was pleased with the fighting spirit shown by his side, though the win would not have been possible if not for an impressive save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen to deny Juame Costa in stoppage time.

"There are three golden points," he said. "They way we played, and the circumstances we played in, this is a family victory. We have showed we know how to suffer.

"We had a very good first half and showed lots of personality. We are on the way up.

"We wanted the game to be suspended but I'm proud of the team, and proud of Marc. We needed him. He stopped a goal at the end and saved us.

"But the youngsters in the side are also helping us a lot. They have the right mentality and are well prepared. These three points put us in the fight for the top positions."

Riqui Puig was one of the many youngsters on display for Barca, the academy product making his landmark 50th appearance for the club in all competitions.

He completed 66 of his 69 passes for a passing accuracy of 96 per cent that no other Barcelona player could match on the day.

"Riqui was very good," Xavi said. "As were the others, like [Oscar] Mingueza and [Ferran] Jutgla. They have all worked hard for the team and it is exciting for us.

"This is the way forward and this victory is an example of that."

Dani Alves and Jordi Alba missed Sunday's win after testing positive for coronavirus, but the pair have since returned negative tests and have been given the green light to return to training from Monday.

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti wants consistency when it comes to match postponement protocols following calls to have Barcelona's trip to Real Mallorca cancelled despite them being able to name a squad.

Several LaLiga clubs have suffered with coronavirus outbreaks over the past month or so, with Madrid among them.

Their bitter rivals Barcelona have come into 2022 amid something of a selection crisis of their own, with Xavi set to be without 17 players for their trip to Real Mallorca on Sunday.

Nine of the 17 are absent due to testing positive for COVID-19 in the past week, with Barca coach Xavi calling the decision not to postpone their match "crazy".

While postponements have become commonplace in the Premier League in recent weeks, LaLiga has remained generally uninterrupted due to regulations that make such situations far rarer.

Teams still have to play so long as they have 13 available players from their first and second teams.

Clubs must continue to adhere to the rule that dictates a minimum of seven players registered to the senior team are on the pitch at the same time, but that can drop to five players if teams have fewer than seven professionals available for selection.

Essentially, providing Barca can name five first-team players in a starting XI – there are 11 in the squad travelling to Mallorca – their games will not be postponed, and Ancelotti points out that any wavering in this regard would highlight a lack of consistency.

When asked if games should be postponed, Ancelotti told reporters: "It's a complicated issue. I respect everyone's opinion, because each person has their own.

"A lot of teams have been affected, as we were against Athletic [Bilbao]. There are protocols. We can offer opinions but we have to respect the protocols.

"Before making these decisions [to postpone games], the protocols would have to be changed.

"We've already been on hiatus, and there were a few months without games being played. The pandemic is relatively under control, and we have to continue [playing]."

Given Ancelotti's news conference fell on January 1, he was predictably asked again about the possibility of signing Kylian Mbappe on a free transfer – the Frenchman is now eligible to discuss a move as he is in the final six months of his contract.

But, unsurprisingly, the Italian gave short shrift to the questioning.

"I don't know," he replied to being quizzed on whether Mbappe will join. "We're thinking about fighting for titles.

"It's an interesting time because we're fighting for LaLiga, and the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana are starting too.

"It's an important period. The last thing I'm thinking about is what's going to happen on June 30.

"What I want is that, when the new stadium opens, I'll be sitting on the bench."

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