Xavi acknowledged Barcelona are in a "very good situation" at the LaLiga summit but was left to rue a missed opportunity at home to Girona on Monday.

The Blaugrana could have moved 15 points clear with victory, after Real Madrid fell to a 3-2 defeat against Villarreal on Sunday, but had to settle for a 13-point lead following a goalless draw at Camp Nou.

It marked Barca's second draw without scoring at Camp Nou in LaLiga this term, as many as in their previous four league campaigns combined, after Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga impressed.

Barca head coach Xavi says failing to win at home will always be a missed chance, though refused to criticise his side for their efforts.

Asked on DAZN whether it was an opportunity squandered, Xavi said: "We can't be positive with a point at home, but we are 13 points clear of second with 10 games to go.

"We are in a very good situation. We have tried, we have played a correct game, we have had many chances to score and win the game against a very good team.

"We just missed getting the first goal. I think we deserved to win."

Barca continued their unbeaten run at home in LaLiga this campaign (14 games), with only Union Berlin and Bayern Munich boasting a season-long such record across Europe's top five leagues this term.

The stalemate also marked a rare feat for Girona, who kept a clean sheet in a Spanish top-flight away game for the first time since March 2019 (2-0 win at Leganes).

Girona have not beaten their Catalan rivals Barca in six league meetings (L4 D2) but Xavi was quick to credit Miguel Angel Sanchez's impressive visitors.

The former midfielder added: "We are going to play teams like this, who are risking their lives. They told us that this point is massive.

"Next week we are going to Getafe, who are risking their lives. This team drew at the Bernabeu, it's a great team.

"We have to give credit to this league, people want to see it differently but we deserve praise to be where we are [at the top]."

A misfiring Barca frontline failed to breach the resolute Girona backline, with Robert Lewandowski and Ansu Fati largely passengers in a contest where Raphinha shone by creating a game-leading four chances.

The Brazil international's performance was in stark contrast to Fati, who has been involved in just one LaLiga goal in his last 16 outings after being involved in eight (5G 3A) in that amount of previous matches.

Blaugrana captain Busquets acknowledged it was difficult to overcome an industrious Girona as the Spain international outlined his intentions to wrap up the league title as soon as possible.

He told DAZN: "It was hard for us to hurt them, especially in the first half when they had a little more possession of the ball. They put a lot of balls inside and we weren't pressing well. 

"Even so, I think we have had them, but today we have seen how the minutes went by, they gradually established themselves more and more in defence and we could not get the goal. 

"Our main objective is to win the league as soon as possible. If Madrid drop points then good, but our objective remains the same."

Barcelona missed the chance to move 15 points clear at the LaLiga summit after being held to a goalless draw at home to Girona on Monday.

Real Madrid succumbed to a 3-2 defeat to Villarreal on Saturday but Xavi's Blaugrana failed to fire two days later, leaving Barca 13 points clear of the second-placed Los Blancos.

A fine Paulo Gazzaniga display kept the energetic hosts at bay, while Valentin Castellanos wasted the best chance of the game when curling wide in the second half at Camp Nou.

The stalemate ended a four-match winning league run for Barca, but Xavi's side remain unbeaten at home in LaLiga this season as the Blaugrana march towards the title.

Viktor Tsygankov sliced a presentable chance on the volley wide as Girona started positively, although Barca should have twice broke the deadlock in the opening 10 minutes.

Robert Lewandowski curled narrowly over after an Ansu Fati offload, while a despairing Gazzaniga dive saved Santiago Bueno from inexplicably passing into his own goal.

Another smart Gazzaniga stop denied Raphinha before the Girona goalkeeper – almost inside his own net – somehow clawed away Ronald Araujo's flick from the resulting corner.

Eric Garcia headed over from close range immediately after the interval but Girona should have struck first shortly after.

Castellanos evaded Barca's offside trap but placed wide with just Marc-Andre ter Stegen to beat, with Girona left to rue a missed chance that could have grabbed a memorable victory against their Catalan rivals, who themselves squandered some promising opportunities late on.

 

What does it mean? Xavi warning not heeded

Xavi warned his Barca players in his pre-match press conference to not get sloppy in search of a 15-point lead at the top of LaLiga, though the Blaugrana stars failed to heed that warning.

Girona were good value for a hard-fought point, albeit the visitors may look back with regret after Castellanos spurned a brilliant chance to secure their first league win over Barca since September 2017.

Barca remain firmly on course for the title but profligate performances such as this show there is still much to work on for Xavi's young Blaugrana.

Rampant Raphinha efforts in vain

Raphinha appeared to be everywhere as Barca tried and failed to breach an impressive Girona defence that was led by Gazzaniga, who made a trio of brilliant saves.

The Brazil international carved out a game-leading four big chances, including two brilliant set-piece deliveries, but his hard-working showing ended without deserved reward.

Careless Castellanos

Castellanos had time and space to think how to beat Ter Stegen with a massive second-half chance, though somehow failed to hit the target after racing through one-on-one.

That capped a frustrating showing for the Girona striker, who completed just five passes, won a meagre two duels and recorded only 14 touches before his 60th-minute withdrawal.

What's next?

Barca visit Getafe on Sunday, when Girona host Elche.

Xavi accepts Sergio Busquets could decide to end his Barcelona career on a high at the end of the season, though the Blaugrana boss remains hopeful of keeping the midfielder.

Busquets has won 31 major trophies during a glittering 15-year spell with Barca's senior side, but the 34-year-old's contract with the Catalan giants expires at the end of this season.

While Barca president Joan Laporta revealed the club were looking to offer Busquets a one-year extension last month, MLS side Inter Miami have long been credited with an interest in him.

Barca are 12 points clear of Real Madrid at LaLiga's summit ahead of Monday's meeting with Girona, and while Xavi hopes Busquets will stay at Camp Nou, he accepts his captain may view a title triumph as the ideal time to depart.

"Let's see how he ends the season," Xavi said of his former team-mate. "I have said it many times, for me [Busquets] is very important, not only in football but also in the dressing room.

"I have told him many times, I want him to stay but I also understand him. 

"I have told him, if everything goes well, this year he can leave with titles and in a great moment. I understand him perfectly. It's difficult. I will insist that he continues."

Xavi warned Barcelona they cannot consider the league title won even if they beat Girona to open up a 15-point lead over Real Madrid on Monday.

Barca were crushed 4-0 by Madrid in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final in midweek, meaning the Blaugrana only have the LaLiga title left to play for.

They were already 12 points clear at the summit before this weekend, and Madrid's surprise 3-2 home defeat to Villarreal on Saturday gives Barca the opportunity to increase the gap.

No team has ever overturned such a deficit at this stage of a LaLiga season, so Barca's position looks very secure.

But Xavi was keen to stress the importance of not taking their lead for granted, with the former midfielder acknowledging his young squad does lack a degree of maturity.

"[The title] wouldn't be considered won, there would still be 10 [games] left," Xavi bluntly said in his pre-match press conference.

"When the league is won, we'll celebrate it. We have to win it. Tomorrow's game is a very good test for us after the elimination in the Copa.

"We depend on ourselves. Fifteen points would be a spectacular difference. It wouldn't be all done, but it would be a big difference, and winning the league would be extraordinary."

Despite Barca's massive lead in LaLiga, their performances in other competitions have left a lot to be desired.

While they did win the Supercopa de Espana, Barca dropped out of the Champions League at the group stage and into the Europa League – Manchester United deservedly eliminated them from that competition, and they were even more comprehensively dumped out of the Copa by Madrid.

But Xavi lent on comments once made by former Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane as he suggested LaLiga success reflects stability.

Asked what incentives Barca players have, Xavi said: "Winning LaLiga. Winning LaLiga is the focus.

"We have won five Champions Leagues, and winning the Champions League is required of us, but winning LaLiga gives us stability.

"We are 12 points ahead and that means that we do things well. We value what we are doing. It's amazing, and gets us closer to winning LaLiga, which for us would be extraordinary."

As for the other competitions, Xavi reminded critics they are still during the early stages of a new era.

"We need time. We won the Supercopa, we are on track in LaLiga. In Europe, we have not competed well.

"We've signed players, there are youngsters [in the squad]... when we have been playing together for two or three years, we will not be under construction.

"We've won a title and we're on our way to another."

Xavi was disappointed by Barcelona's failure to win "moments" after they were romped by Clasico rivals Real Madrid 4-0 at the Camp Nou to fall to a 4-1 Copa del Rey semi-final aggregate defeat.

An Eder Militao own goal in the first leg at the Bernabeu meant Barca headed into Wednesday's return match on home turf with a one-goal advantage.

But a strong first half by Barca ended with a short period of play that would prove crucial, as Thibaut Courtois made a brilliant save to deny Robert Lewandowski before a sweeping counter-attack ended with Vinicius Junior levelling the tie.

Madrid then sealed their progression with a brilliant second half, as Karim Benzema's hat-trick put the 31-time winners out and set Carlo Ancelotti's men up to meet Osasuna in the final on May 6.

Xavi was left frustrated by his team's failure to match their first-half display, telling Movistar+: "It is a difficult night to digest. This is football.

"You have to compete better. We have competed well until 1-0. They are moments that we have to stop. We could have also stopped the 2-0 moment. In short, they are details that we have to control.

"In the first half we were very good, but that's what I said: football is about moments and we didn't take advantage of them.

"When football is so even, you have to take advantage of the moments. We didn't do it in the first half and they did in the second. They have been superior, no excuses."

Xavi credited Madrid for their excellent second-leg display, saying: "I already said yesterday that Madrid were favourites.

"We cannot argue that they are a great team. They are the LaLiga and Champions League champions and they do not forgive. 

"When you don't kill Madrid, they kill you."

Despite the elimination, Xavi's men hold a 12-point lead over Madrid at the top of LaLiga, and he is hoping his team can put this setback behind them to kick on and claim the title.

"We had a very bad second half, but we have to get up," he said. "Tomorrow we will get up with all the hope to beat Girona.

"It is a tough result, but we have to focus on the league."

Barcelona are not affected by off-field matters amid the ongoing Negreira scandal, head coach Xavi said.

The Catalan giants are subject to an investigation from UEFA with prosecutors in Spain pursuing charges for alleged corruption, having allegedly paid over €7million to the company owned by former vice-president of the refereeing committee in Spain, Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira.

LaLiga cannot take action due to a statute of limitations in Spain but, speaking on Monday, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin confirmed no such restrictions are in place for their investigation, while talking up the severity of the scandal.

Barcelona have denied any wrongdoing.

And Xavi insists the allegations are having no impact upon his squad.

"Extra-sporting issues don't go into the locker room. We talk about how to defend, how to attack. We are not talking about UEFA, nor Negreira," he told a press conference ahead of the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg against Real Madrid.

"We are focused on the Cup: there is a Clasico, they will come wanting revenge and we want to show that we can win again. The Camp Nou has to be a pressure cooker.

"I listen very little [to outside comments] and we value from within. The president values it very much. If the boss is not happy, it matters what is said from outside.

"Nothing should divert us, tomorrow we can have a double joy: to beat Madrid and reach a final. We are much better than last season."

On Monday, Barcelona issued a statement urging LaLiga president Javier Tebas to resign after alleged false claims in the Negreira case but Xavi refused to comment on the matter.

"I don't know him, we have greeted each other two three times, and I don't have a clear opinion," he added.

Barcelona hold a slender 1-0 advantage heading into Wednesday's game but Madrid are still the favourites, Xavi believes, saying: "When we have a two-legged game, I have the feeling that it is very difficult. How long has it been since they lost a two-legged tie?"

"That's why for me they are still the favourites despite the 0-1. They have more pressure than we do.

"Madrid can beat you perfectly. For me it is very even and they have a point that makes them favourites, they are used to coming back from matches."

Xavi highlighted Barcelona's success as a team effort rather than down to individual performances after a comfortable 4-0 win in LaLiga over Elche.

A Robert Lewandowski double, plus goals for Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres, saw the Blaugrana swat aside their rock-bottom hosts at Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero.

Against a team who look almost certain to be relegated, there were few doubts about Barca's superiority.

But Xavi was quick to praise his side's unsung heroes as much as their headline-makers, stating his belief that it is a balance of both that will bring them the title.

"It has been a rounded night," he said. "[It was] a very good game, from start to finish. We have a team with players who do not necessarily participate too much.

"[But] they performed at a high level. This is [the definition of] a team. We have taken one more step [towards the championship], we are closer. We have shown that we are a unit."

The coach highlighted the versatility of several of his players, including Eric Garcia, who played in midfield, and Marcos Alonso, who fulfilled a centre-back role.

On Fati, Xavi was happy to see the player put his off-field distractions behind him, following a week where his father complained about his lack of minutes for the club.

"Ansu made a difference," he added. "It has left him exhausted, but he has done a great job for the team. His goal comes because of his work ethic and talent.

"He has that, and it will come out. If he continues to work like this, he will end up playing more often."

Xavi insisted it is not the time to talk about a potential reunion with Lionel Messi as Barcelona close in on the LaLiga title.

Having already secured the Supercopa de Espana, the club's first silverware since Messi's departure in 2021, Barcelona have a commanding 12-point lead in LaLiga and hold a 1-0 lead in the Copa del Rey semi-final against Real Madrid.

A potential treble remains on the cards for Xavi's side, but with Messi now in the final months of his contract at Paris Saint-Germain, the clamour to bring the Argentina World Cup winner back to Camp Nou is growing.

While Xavi is understandably keen to bring his former team-mate back to Barcelona, he is focused on upcoming matches and not potential transfer activity.

"I think this is not the time to talk about Messi's return. I talk to Leo often, I have a friendship, but this is not the time," he told reporters ahead of facing Elche.

"Neither for his sake nor for that of the club. It is a subject that is being discussed, I have a lot of contact with him.

"Hopefully, we can see him again here, I would be the first one who would be made happy. He is the best player in history, but boy, it's not the time.

"We are a month away from winning two titles, and it's time to focus.

"It doesn't depend on me, it depends much more on what Leo wants to do. He's done everything in football, he's won everything; it depends on his happiness.

"I have a great relationship with him, and if he has the decision that he wants to come back, we will listen to him and be delighted.

"We're going to listen to fate. Let's see what happens, there's nothing yet. Let's see the will he has.

"We do a disservice to Leo, the team, the club. We are one step away from achieving success in the post-Messi era that scared us so much. This is success."

Pressed further on Messi and next season, Xavi again sought to shift the focus towards the push for further silverware in this campaign.

"We haven't talked about next year with the board," he said. "We are one step away from winning titles and you talk to me about signings next year. You are specialists in changing the subject.

"On Wednesday, we can go to the Copa final. Everything is to be won.

"Sometimes I do not understand you [the media]. All year round, the talk is to win titles, and now that we are one step away, we talk about players for next season. Let's focus on Elche."

Xavi described Barcelona's 2-1 win over Clasico rivals Real Madrid as "a very important victory for us" as his team roared 12 points clear at the top of LaLiga.

A first league title since 2018-19 is within Barcelona's grasp now, with a dozen matchdays remaining and no end in sight to their dominance.

A 22nd win from 26 games in this season's championship was hard-earned at Camp Nou, where a freak own goal from Ronald Araujo gave Madrid a ninth-minute lead.

Barcelona's equaliser could hardly have been better timed, coming just before half-time from Sergi Roberto, who was given the nod to start in midfield ahead of Franck Kessie.

That gave Barcelona a huge lift to take into the interval and they struck at the death in the second half too, with substitute Kessie the man to send the home support wild in stoppage time.

Xavi celebrated on the touchline, all too aware of that goal's significance. Barring a staggering implosion over the remaining weeks of the season, Xavi's Barcelona will be champions in his first full season at the helm, dethroning their great rivals from Madrid.

"We dominated, we generated more chances," Xavi said. "I am leaving satisfied. The team emptied itself and worked in defence and attack. It is a very important victory for us. I think we have been good."

He was right about the chances, with Barcelona leading that count 17-11 over the course of the game, and the expected goals final reckoning, measuring the quality of chances and likelihood of scoring, was also firmly in their favour by a margin of 1.64 to 0.58.

Robert Lewandowski missed what was determined to be the best chance of the game, with his volley in the 67th minute flying over Thibaut Courtois' goal. That was given an xG rating of 0.377.

 

Madrid also had a goal chalked off after Marco Asensio beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the 81st minute but was ruled offside after a VAR check.

"I think we had more control," Xavi said. "I think we have been superior in general."

His team had 54 per cent of possession, having had just 35.2 per cent in their 1-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Copa del Rey at the start of March.

Sergi Roberto was named man of the match, and the goal justified his selection, with the experienced one-club man trusted for the big occasion. He featured at right-back last week, but with Araujo returning from suspension was handed a role further upfield, with Barcelona packing their midfield.

Former Milan star Kessie proved he can thrive in such a big occasion, too, with his intervention off the bench, and Xavi could hardly have been more delighted.

"I had doubts until the last moment between Sergi and Franck. In the end it turned out very well because they both scored," Xavi said.

Franck Kessie scored a dramatic late winner as Barcelona took a significant step towards LaLiga glory with a 2-1 Clasico victory over Real Madrid on Sunday.

Blaugrana midfielder Kessie stroked home in the 92nd minute at Camp Nou to send Xavi's side 12 points clear of Madrid, who thought they had won it earlier when Marco Asensio saw an 81st-minute strike ruled out.

A somewhat comical Ronald Araujo own goal had offered Madrid an early lead before Sergi Roberto restored parity in the 45th minute.

Kessie's late intervention, placing past Thibaut Courtois, arrived after Asensio's finish was ruled out for offside as Barca closed on the title with 12 league games left to play.

Courtois produced impressive stops to thwart Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha but Madrid struck first after nine minutes.

Araujo inexplicably headed into his own net at the near post when attempting to defend Vinicius Junior's hopeful left-wing centre.

Courtois kept a Barca response at bay, denying Andreas Christensen's inventive flick and a fizzing Raphinha drive, although Xavi's men finally fought back on the stroke of half-time.

A desperate Eder Militao block against Raphinha saw the ball fall to Sergi Roberto, who fired into the bottom-right corner after a slight deflection wrong-footed Courtois.

Another deflected effort almost undid Madrid again after the interval, though Lewandowski's attempt off Eduardo Camavinga whistled wide to Courtois' left.

Asensio thought he had snatched victory when turning home Dani Carvajal's right-wing cross, only for a VAR review to adjudge the substitute offside.

More late drama was to follow when Kessie coolly finished into the bottom-right corner from Alejandro Balde's low centre as Barca edged closer towards a first top-flight crown since 2019.

Xavi entrusted Sergi Roberto with a key midfield role for Barcelona as the LaLiga front-runners took on Real Madrid in a titanic Clasico.

Barcelona went into Sunday's match at Camp Nou with a nine-point lead over second-placed Madrid, making the fixture hugely significant given just 12 rounds of games remain after the international break.

The hosts were without Pedri due to fitness concerns, and this was an occasion where Barcelona boss Xavi opted on the side of pragmatism, packing his midfield as Sergi Roberto stepped up from right-back, where he featured in last week's win over Athletic Bilbao.

Although Sergi Roberto has come in for criticism at times, Xavi is a former team-mate of his and considered him the right man for the big occasion, with Franck Kessie, another midfield option, named on the bench.

Ferran Torres was a starter against Athletic but dropped to the bench this time as Barcelona fielded a front two of Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha, with massed ranks behind them.

Sergi Roberto was joined in midfield by a fellow veteran campaigner in Sergio Busquets, with Frenkie de Jong in there too, along with teenage livewire Gavi.

Ronald Araujo returned from suspension at right-back, and his battle with Madrid winger Vinicius Junior was widely expected to be a key contest.

Madrid won 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu when these sides met in the league earlier in the season, but Barcelona snatched a 1-0 victory at the same venue in the Copa del Rey in early March.

Carlo Ancelotti's visitors were captained by Karim Benzema, with Eduardo Camavinga preferred to Aurelien Tchouameni in midfield, where Luka Modric and Toni Kroos also featured.

Barcelona came into the game having lost five of their last six league Clasicos, with Madrid winning on their last two LaLiga visits to Camp Nou.

Los Blancos have only ever won three successive league games at Barcelona, between January 1963 and February 1965, but their title hopes for this season arguably rested on them repeating that feat.

Xavi warned his Barcelona players they cannot assume the title is theirs even if they beat Real Madrid in Sunday's Clasico.

Barca welcome Madrid to Camp Nou for the second LaLiga Clasico of the season, and it comes at a potentially pivotal moment.

The Blaugrana are already nine points clear at LaLiga's summit, meaning anything other than a Madrid win will likely have the Spanish media proclaiming Barca as champions.

Even if Barca do lose, there will still likely be a fair amount of optimism at Camp Nou, given no team have ever led by as many as nine points at this stage of the season and failed to win the title.

Xavi recognises the importance of Sunday's contest, but he is not convinced by suggestions it is decisive – for either team.

"If we win, it would be a knock [for Madrid] in the table," he said.

"It wouldn't be definitive, but it would be a strong blow. Whatever happens, I think nothing will be decided [on Sunday].

"We train naturally, knowing we have a great opportunity. If we win, we will take a very important step to win the league.

"We are very motivated. For some players, it would be the first league title. We prepared for the match, no matter how important it is."

 

Sunday's game will be the second instalment in a run of three Clasicos in just over a month, with Barca winning 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Copa del Rey on March 2; the second leg of that semi-final is set for April 5.

Their meeting earlier this month had a peculiar feel to it, with Real Madrid recording 64.7 per cent possession, a high for them in Clasicos since at least the 2013-14 season. At the same time, Barcelona's 35.3 per cent possession was their lowest in a single match in any competition over the same period.

Although Barca did win that game, Xavi wants to see an improvement.

"Personally, I would like us to have a little more possession of the ball than in the Copa," he said.

"We are preparing the game in a certain way. We will try to have more control than in the last Clasico, have more of the ball and be protagonists with it.

"I see Madrid as very strong, they have improved a lot physically since January. I suppose it will be a closely contested game.

"The Clasicos are unpredictable, you never know what they will bring. We have prepared well; we have prepared many aspects. We hope Camp Nou will be a pressure cooker for them."

Of course, being able to call upon the ball-playing abilities of Pedri would help Barca retain possession.

However, the Spain international will be absent again on Sunday due to a persistent hamstring injury, with Xavi unwilling to risk him.

"We knew there was risk [with Pedri]," Xavi continued. "[On Friday] he didn't feel 100 per cent, and if you're not in good shape, the best thing you can do is recover well.

"We talked to him and told him that he didn't have to force himself. It's an important game, but it's not a great final. We don't want to lose Pedri for two more months.

"We have played well without [Robert] Lewandowski, without Pedri, without [Ousmane] Dembele, without Gavi... We have done it.

"People keep talking about the first leg of the Copa semi-final, but that's the only game in which we've not had possession.

"It's clear: a match in which we are dominated will not change our mentality. From the first day that I am here, we have worked in a very concrete way."

Xavi declared Barcelona's slender 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao as a "golden victory" after they survived a late onslaught to restore their nine-point lead ahead of next weekend's Clasico.

Raphinha's first-half goal at San Mames ultimately proved decisive, but that was just the tip of the iceberg as Barca were forced to withstand intense late pressure.

Earlier, Raul Garcia had hit the post for the hosts, and Athletic's late barrage began with Alex Berenguer striking the woodwork.

Athletic thought they salvaged a dramatic draw when Inaki Williams surged clear and smashed home, but the goal was then disallowed after a VAR check, with Iker Muniain deemed to have handled in the build-up.

Nico Williams then somehow failed to properly connect with the ball when seemingly destined to convert a tap-in; the follow-up by Yuri Berchiche was cleared off the line; and Gorka Guruzeta's volley from that rebound was crucially blocked in front of goal by Andreas Christensen.

It was a valuable win with Barca set to face second-placed Real Madrid at Camp Nou on Sunday.

"The same thing has happened to us again," Xavi told reporters. "We have been at a good level for 75 minutes, although we have to attack better.

"It was a difficult game. In San Mames you end up suffering, and that's what happened. It's a golden victory for us and we take three very important points.

"We maintained the nine-point lead, and we go into the Clasico with confidence.

"But we have to get better offensively. We had two or three clear chances in the second half: from Ansu [Fati]; from [Alejandro] Balde, who didn't choose well; from [Robert] Lewandowski with a header.

"We have to improve in that aspect, be calmer and more patient and play more in the attacking half. Defensive solidity must also be valued, but it's true that we have to improve in the attack."

Barca were greeted with a particularly vociferous reception at San Mames in light of the Negreira scandal.

Last month, broadcaster SER Catalunya alleged Barca had paid €1.6million to the company of Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira – the former vice-president of Spain's Technical Committee of Referees (CTA) – between 2016 and 2018.

Newspaper El Pais claimed Negreira's company – DASNIL 95 SL – produced written reports and DVD assessments of referees prior to games.

On Friday, however, Barca – who have denied any wrongdoing – were charged with corruption over alleged payments to Negreira, who is also facing charges along with the club's former presidents Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell.

It also emerged on Friday that prosecutors allege Barca paid €7.3m to companies owned by Negreira between 2001 and 2018.

Athletic fans jeered Barca and chanted for them to be demoted to the Segunda, and the reception left Xavi taken aback.

"I am surprised by the hostile atmosphere of San Mames and it saddens me," he said. "Judging prematurely [before a trial] is not good for society.

"Everyone is free. I respect opinions. But we are being judged prematurely, and it saddens me.

"I have nothing more to add. We haven't talked about it in the locker room.

"Those things are for the club [to deal with]. We focus on playing football, we're professionals."

Xavi hopes to stay at Barcelona for "many years" but insists his main focus is on winning trophies, rather than extending his contract at Camp Nou.

The Blaugrana are on track for a treble this season. Nine points clear at the LaLiga summit, Xavi has already secured Supercopa de Espana glory, while Barca are also 1-0 to the good in their two-legged Copa del Rey semi-final tie with Real Madrid.

The former midfielder has one year remaining on his existing contract, although club president Joan Laporta revealed negotiations over a new deal were ongoing.

Xavi is hopeful those talks are successful and he can enjoy a lengthy reign at Barca, similar to that of Alex Ferguson, who won 13 Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues during his 27-year tenure with Manchester United.

But that is not the 43-year-old's primary objective.

Speaking at his press conference ahead of Barcelona's trip to Athletic Bilbao, he told reporters: "It's difficult to be Ferguson in Barcelona. I love to be here. I suffer many days, but I am thankful to the president.

"He's really happy. It's great to have his support. He is a loyal man and hopefully I will stay here many years. But it will depend on all our results. Now is not the moment to talk about my contract.

"Of course, we are talking about this situation. We've been talking about a contract extension, but we need to be calm and focus on winning trophies.

"I still have one more year. We are close to winning trophies, and that's the most important thing – not my contract, we need to win trophies."

Barca will be eager to maintain their momentum ahead of next week's blockbuster showdown with title rivals Real Madrid at Camp Nou, and Xavi has urged his players to retain their concentration levels.

"We are just focused on tomorrow's game to keep the advantage of nine points," he added. "With Real Madrid, that is crucial. Then, we will have the following week to focus on El Clasico.

"We need to keep this good advantage before the visit of Real Madrid, but [Athletic is] going to be a really tough game for sure.

"We are now in the most important part of the season. We need to play well, compete and win those games. These two weeks before the international break are crucial."

Xavi has compared Robert Lewandowski with former Barcelona legends Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi ahead of the striker's return from injury.

LaLiga's top scorer with 15 goals this season, Lewandowski has missed the Blaugrana's last two games after sustaining a hamstring strain.

But the Poland captain is back in the squad for the trip to Athletic Bilbao, where leaders Barca will be aiming to maintain their nine-point lead at the top of the table. 

"Robert has been training with the group since Thursday after some days off, and he's ready," head coach Xavi said during his pre-match press conference. "He's feeling well and always wants to play.

"We are really happy to have him here with us. I will compare him with people like Ronaldinho and Messi. He's changed the mentality of the team. He's our leader and all our players are growing with him.

"We won without him, but we missed him. We attack better with Lewandowski. He presses high up front; he's a crucial player for us."

Barca will be without the injured Pedri and Ousmane Dembele at San Mames, while Ronald Araujo misses out through suspension.

That could see Eric Garcia start in the heart of defence, with Xavi paying tribute to the Spain international.

"He's a great professional," he added. "He doesn't participate as much as he deserves. But he has competition at a big club like Barca.

"He is a player of present and future. I'm counting on him. He always plays well when he's on the field. He's an example in the locker room."

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