Xavi warned Barcelona they have "no margin for error" in Wednesday's Champions League meeting with Inter, declaring only a win will do for the Blaugrana at Camp Nou.

Hakan Calhanoglu's long-range strike condemned Barca to their second defeat in three Champions League outings last week, leaving them three points adrift of the Nerazzurri in Group C.

That defeat was just the second Barca have suffered in 11 Champions League meetings with Inter (W6 D3), but another reverse would see them eliminated if Bayern Munich avoid defeat to Viktoria Plzen.

The importance of the occasion was not lost on Xavi at his pre-match news conference, where the former midfielder outlined his team's desire for retribution.

"We expect an Inter very similar to the one in Milan. They will form the lower block, the middle block, we have alternatives, we have prepared them," Xavi said.

"It is a final, and we have no margin for error. With the help of the fans, we hope there will be a magical night.

"We must not lower our guard; there is talent, there is a desire for revenge, so we have to give everything so that the victory stays here.

"I would like to be a player tomorrow, I would rather be a player than a coach tomorrow. For me, it is a very good opportunity. We are motivated and hopeful."

Xavi described the decision to deny Pedri a second-half equaliser last week as an "injustice" after Ansu Fati was penalised for handball, but the Blaugrana coach says his team must make the officials' performances immaterial by improving.

"We had a logical outrage after the game, but that's it. Tomorrow it's time to play better," Xavi added. "If we improve the game, maybe we won't talk about the referees."

Inter's tally of 0.18 expected goals (xG) in last week's victory was the lowest of any team to have won a Champions League game this season, and Xavi knows Barcelona must remain patient in the return fixture.

"It's a game to be calm, to know how to position yourself, you don't have to score in minute one. We have to try not to feel the pressure, I always tell them that the pressure is on me," he added.

"You have to be patient, but if we attack like in the second half in Milan, I'm optimistic. We have to be more aggressive. Only three points are worth it for us, we have to be brave."

Meanwhile, Barcelona have been beset by defensive injuries recently, and while Jules Kounde is unlikely to feature on Wednesday, Xavi hopes he will return to face Real Madrid on Sunday.

"We don't count on him except for a surprise, for Sunday we will see. He can make it, but it will depend on his feelings," Xavi added. "I see him well, training hard, positive, my feeling is that he can make it to Sunday."

Barcelona head coach Xavi admits he must be "self-critical" about his side's recent drop in quality, but insists they will "see the positives" after victory over Celta Vigo.

A poached first-half finish from Pedri was enough for a 1-0 win for the Blaugrana to extend their winning run in LaLiga to seven consecutive games and take them back to the summit on goal difference ahead of Real Madrid.

Yet between their latest result and a similar narrow triumph against Mallorca, Barca appear to be fading away from their early bullish intensity, with a loss to Inter in the Champions League further compounding matters.

Speaking afterwards, Xavi acknowledged he was less than satisfied with his team's latest drop in temperament, but still highlighted the vitality of their ability to earn big results with unrewarding form.

"I have to be very self-critical today," he told DAZN. "The first half was good. In the second half, we stopped applying pressure; psychologically, we dropped off.

"It is important to take three points when you are not good though. We have won seven games in a row. You have to see the positives. Until an excellent performance arrives, you have to save these matches."

With El Clasico looming for likely control of the title race, Xavi seemed less pressed about concerns over form though, suggesting the all-encompassing nature of the fixture balances out both Madrid and themselves.

"El Clasico, it is unpredictable," he added. "Last year, we arrived on the back of a bad run of form, and yet we won 4-0. We will try to win and show personality, like we did last time."

Barcelona coach Xavi believes the club and Atletico Madrid have reached an agreement for the permanent transfer of Antoine Griezmann to Los Colchoneros.

Reports emerged earlier this week suggesting the two LaLiga giants had struck a €19.9million deal for the Frenchman, who is on loan at Atletico from Barca.

Griezmann made his return to Atletico on an initial temporary deal last year, with the two-year agreement set to become a permanent move for a reported €40m in 2023 if a specific clause was met.

The clause required Griezmann to play at least 30 minutes – not including stoppage time – in a percentage of Atletico's matches, though the exact proportion is unclear as some media outlets claim it is over 80 per cent and others suggest it is around 50 per cent.

Nevertheless, Atletico coach Diego Simeone had been carefully managing Griezmann's minutes seemingly to avoid triggering the €40m clause – the Frenchman has completed two full LaLiga games this term, and in his other six appearances he featured for no more than 30 minutes each time.

Atletico's tactics appears to have succeeded in getting Griezmann's price reduced considerably, with Xavi revealing an agreement was in place.

"The club tells me that they have reached an agreement, but it is not official," he told reporters on Saturday.

"If there is an agreement, all parties are happy. I wish the player the best."

Griezmann controversially joined Barca from Atletico in 2019 when the Blaugrana triggered his €120m release clause.

But in two full LaLiga campaigns at Camp Nou, Griezmann struggled to rediscover the form that attracted Barca to him in the first place, scoring 22 goals in 71 league games – he netted as many times in a single season on two separate occasions for Atletico in the past.

Although he was even less productive in front of goal upon his return to Atletico, scoring just three in 26 league outings last term, Simeone remains a strong advocate for the 31-year-old.

Xavi revealed Frenkie de Jong could start in defence on his return from injury when Barcelona welcome Celta Vigo in LaLiga.

The Blaugrana are aiming to remain at the LaLiga summit as they seek a response from the midweek Champions League defeat by Inter.

De Jong is back in the squad having missed his side's last two matches after sustaining a thigh injury while on international duty with the Netherlands last month.

Though he did not confirm the midfielder would start at Camp Nou, Xavi indicated he could fill in at centre-half in the absence of the likes of Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen.

When asked about De Jong at his pre-match press conference, the head coach said: "He's 100 per cent. We'll see what we decide tomorrow.

"Frenkie can play centre-back, we've already tried it. He is powerful and fast, but there are other alternatives. There is versatility in the dressing room."

One of those alternatives could be 19-year-old Chadi Riad, who would make his senior Barca debut should he feature against Vigo.

"We know him from last year and the pre-season," Xavi said. "He is aggressive, with good output ... he has a future. We follow him. He can prove things, he can become important."

Xavi also urged his players to lend leading marksman Robert Lewandowski a hand on the goalscoring front. 

The Poland skipper has scored nine of their 19 goals in LaLiga this term, with his nearest challengers Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembele both netting just twice apiece thus far.

"We have to improve the goals without him," the head coach observed. "And also improve fouls, shoot from outside the area... everyone must contribute goals. We have to improve the scoring ability of those at the top.

"We need to shoot more when we have the ball, find that final pass, find the right solutions. We must improve and be more competitive. You have to be more optimistic in front of goal."

 

 

 

Miralem Pjanic has hit out at former Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman, claiming training sessions lacked intensity, tactics and ideas during the Dutchman's spell at Camp Nou.

Pjanic made 19 league appearances for Barcelona in the 2020-21 season after joining from Juventus, spending the last campaign on loan at Besiktas before joining Emirati outfit Sharjah last month.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina international has been critical of Koeman in the past, accusing the Dutchman of "disrespecting" him following his move to Turkey in September 2021.

Speaking to Cadena Ser on Friday, Pjanic attacked Koeman's methods once more, saying: "I was very surprised in training with Koeman.

"There was no intensity, no tactics, no ideas. We did not prepare for the games."

 

Pjanic spent his most recent pre-season at Barcelona under Koeman's successor Xavi, and was far more enthusiastic in his assessment of the current Blaugrana coach.

"Preparation and training was good under Xavi, similar to what I was used to at Juventus, for example, where we won everything," Pjanic added.

"Now the sessions at Barca have a lot of intensity. Xavi and his staff were very clear with us at the start of the season. They told us this year we would have to run and go 2000 miles per hour.

"Every day is like a game in training at Barcelona now, because there is so much quality in the squad and a lot of intensity."

Xavi has led Barca to an unbeaten start to the season in LaLiga, having overseen a second-placed finish after taking over from Koeman midway through last season. 

Thierry Henry questioned why Barcelona were not awarded a penalty in their contentious 1-0 loss to Inter despite "20 billion cameras" spotting Denzel Dumfries' handball.

Inter claimed a valuable victory at San Siro in Tuesday's Champions League tie through Hakan Calhanoglu's brilliant first-half strike.

But Barca were left furious after a Pedri equaliser was ruled out by VAR for handball against Ansu Fati in the build-up, before having a late penalty call rejected.

A cross towards Fati was cut out by the hand of Dumfries, but Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic and his officials decided against awarding the visitors a stoppage-time penalty.

It is a decision that left Xavi furious, with the Barca boss already on a yellow card for protesting the disallowed goal, and one the Catalans will reportedly formally complain about.

Speaking alongside referee consultant Christina Unkel, who was trying to defend the decision, former Barcelona striker Henry ridiculed VAR's inability to spot the handball.

"[Dumfries] takes the ball away from Ansu Fati," he told CBS. "I usually never say anything about disallowed goals.

"But Christina, do you, the referees, have the right to sometimes say that you were wrong? Are you ever taught to say you were wrong?

"He was wrong, bye. There is nothing to explain. He was wrong. It happens. It happened to me, it happens to many people. He was wrong. 

"The guy in the truck [VAR official] didn't call the ref. I don't know what experience he has, but even my son could have seen there was a hand. 

"He would have seen it. He saw it, he even texted me to say, 'There's a hand'. You've got 20 billion cameras and you can't see it? Please! It happens but it was wrong."

The defeat could be damaging for Barca as they now trail second-placed Inter by three points at the halfway stage in Group C, with leaders Bayern Munich six points better off.

Xavi, who became the first Barca coach to lose his first three away Champions League games, was "outraged" by the display of the match officials.

"First they explain to us that Ansu handled but another team-mate scored, then with the other incident, it is not clear what happened," he said at his post-match press conference.

"It is my opinion. I would have liked to speak to the referee, because he did not blow the whistle. At the moment, I am outraged, it is an injustice and it makes no sense.

"Now we still have three finals left, we have already lost in Munich and we start again. But there is indignation.

"In general, it was a great injustice. The referee should give explanations, instead he goes away and nothing happens. He has to come here and explain."

Barcelona welcome Inter to Camp Nou next week before concluding their group-stage campaign with a home match against Bayern and a trip to bottom side Viktoria Plzen.

Xavi was "outraged" as his Barcelona side saw a goal disallowed and an injury-time penalty not given in their 1-0 Champions League defeat to Inter.

After Hakan Calhanoglu put the Nerazzurri in front in first-half stoppage time at San Siro, Barcelona thought they had levelled when Pedri turned home from close range in the 66th minute.

However, the goal was disallowed after replays showed Inter goalkeeper Andre Onana had tipped Ousmane Dembele's cross onto Ansu Fati's arm before Pedri tapped in.

Inter were again fortunate late on, when VAR initiated a penalty check after the ball appeared to strike Denzel Dumfries' arm in the box. Much to Barcelona's anger, a spot-kick was not awarded.

The hosts held on to claim three points, making Xavi the first Barca coach to lose his first three Champions League away games in charge of the club.

Yet all of his frustration was saved for the officials, with Xavi telling reporters: "I am outraged.

"First they explain to us that Ansu Fati handled but another team-mate scored, then with the other incident, it is not clear what happened.

"It is my opinion, I would have liked to speak to the referee, because he did not blow the whistle. At the moment, I am outraged, it is an injustice and it makes no sense.

"Now we still have three finals left, we have already lost in Munich and we start again. But there is indignation.

"In general, it was a great injustice. I can't hide and say I'm not outraged, it's a great injustice. The referee should give explanations, instead he goes away and nothing happens. He has to come here and explain."

Despite what he perceived as poor refereeing from Slavko Vincic, Xavi acknowledged that officiating alone was not to blame for the defeat.

"We struggled in rhythm, in the circulation of the ball and in the last half hour we played better, we found good areas on the wing," he added.

"We tried, we want to attack and we paid for the first half, we lacked a bit of rhythm. We need to be self-critical, beyond referee decisions.

"The first half was not up to the Champions League. We talked about it at half-time, we needed more rhythm in the exchange of the ball and I think the second half was positive."

Xavi will not be on a revenge mission when Barcelona face Inter in a "very important" Champions League showdown at San Siro on Tuesday.

Head coach Xavi was in the Barca side knocked out of the Champions League by Inter at the semi-final stage in 2010.

The Blaugrana were beaten 3-1 in the first leg in Milan and failed to overturn that deficit, crashing out after winning 1-0 at Camp Nou against Jose Mourinho's men, who went on to lift the trophy.

Xavi returns to San Siro with the two sides both having picked up three points from their opening two Group C games, with Barca beaten 2-0 at leaders Bayern Munich last month.

And the former Spain midfielder is motivated by the prospect of qualifying for the last 16 rather than having a score to settle.

He said: "I have no feeling of [wanting] revenge. I come here as a coach this time. I remember that we had to travel by bus [to Milan] because of the volcano, but they were a great team.

"It was difficult for us in the first leg. We lost it here. It was a controversial tie, but this is how it is. It's a bitter memory for us, unfortunately."

Inter boss Simone Inzaghi is under pressure with his side ninth in Serie A following back-to-back defeats to Udinese and Roma.

But Xavi is not reading anything into the Nerazzurri's poor form, as he knows they have the quality to turn things around.

"It's not significant," he said. "It's Inter, a very strong team. They have a different system to anything we've come across so far.

"They play with two strikers, something you don't see too much in Spain. They're a tough opponent, with good dynamics, but that has to be shown."

Xavi added: "I have it quite clear. Despite the size of the rival, we are clear that we want to dominate. It is an important rival. It is the Champions League. It is not a definitive match, but it is very important for the future of the group."

Inter have won just two of their 14 European matches against Barcelona, a 2-1 victory in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in January 1970 and that 3-1 Champions League triumph in April 2010.

However, Barca's only two away wins against the Nerazzurri came 60 years apart, winning 4-2 in the Fairs Cup in September 1959 and 2-1 in the Champions League in December 2019.

Xavi made LaLiga history as Barcelona extended their unbeaten away record during his reign to 18 games, but the coach saw room for improvement in a 1-0 win at Real Mallorca.

The victory moved Xavi past Zinedine Zidane for the best unbeaten start away from home by a coach in the Spanish top flight, with the Frenchman having reached 17 games (W13 D4) in the competition without a defeat on the road in 2016 at Real Madrid.

Xavi's streak includes 13 wins and five draws, but Mallorca pushed Barcelona hard, and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to be sharp to preserve another clean sheet.

That is five consecutive shut-outs for Barcelona in LaLiga, and Saturday's victory took them to the top of LaLiga with 19 points from seven games.

Real Madrid, due to play Osasuna on Sunday, have launched their title defence with six consecutive wins and are set to have the chance to reclaim top spot.

The first Clasico of the season is just two weeks away, however, and this early-season rivalry is boiling up nicely before that meeting at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Xavi said of his team's win, which was secured by Robert Lewandowski's ninth goal in seven league games: "It was a very complicated game. These are three very important points, especially after the [international] break.

"In games like this, if you don't score the second [goal], it can become complicated. We've done well by showing patience and calmness."

He added: "It was difficult for us. In the first half we were good, in the second [our level] went down and we can't allow that. We have to go for the second goal and be more ambitious."

 

The away run is something that Xavi takes pride in rather than shying away from, and he sees it as a step towards something more significant.

"It's an important record that hopefully translates into titles," he said. "If it translates into titles, it tastes better, but since there aren't any, it's anecdotal."

That much is true, and it might be that Barcelona need Lewandowski to stay prolific throughout the campaign if they are to topple Madrid from their perch.

"Once again he made the difference," said Xavi, who also added praise for Barcelona's defence in a game in which they were given plenty to do.

Mallorca had a higher expected goals (xG) total than Barcelona (1.0 to 0.7), reflecting the quality and number of their chances. The hosts edged the shot count 13-11 too, with Lee Kang-in going close to a late leveller.

"It was a solid game, without shining, but we took three very important points," Xavi said.

Lewandowski has reached nine goals in his LaLiga career quicker than any player in history. He might get to 10, 11, 12, and goodness knows how many more goals quicker than anybody too, such has been his smooth transition from Bayern Munich to Barcelona.

"He's a goalscorer, a top player, one of the best players in the world, if not the best," Xavi said. "In addition to scoring, there is how he works, presses, instructs others and talks to team-mates."

Barcelona boss Xavi has played down concerns over the future of captain Sergio Busquets, insisting the Spain international remains "key" to his plans at the club.

A difficult start to the season for the 34-year-old, including a red card against Rayo Vallecano, seems to have stoked further suggestions this campaign could be his last at Camp Nou.

With Barca still likely to need to cut their cloth accordingly amid their financial struggles, the Spain skipper could well be one key man to depart next year.

But the defensive midfielder has publicly downplayed a definitive answer on his future, and speaking ahead of his side's clash with Mallorca, Xavi reiterated that no decisions have yet been made.

"Busquets has said publicly that he hasn't decided anything," he stated. "He will make a decision at the end of the season and for me, he continues to be key."

With domestic and European concerns to field, Barca are set to enter a major period of fixture congestion, with a dozen games crunched into the month-and-a-half stretch ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Several of Xavi's fellow coaches across the continent have voiced their displeasure at the intense calendar, but he is instead focusing on the need to take as many points as they can at home and abroad.

"We have 12 games until the break for the World Cup," he added. "It's a momentous stretch of the season. All games are going to be very important.

"Tomorrow we have to win and show our character. We have to show our strengths."

Barca will move into an enforced break this term thanks to the mid-season winter staging of the World Cup in Qatar, adding another tough dimension to an already gruelling campaign.

With FIFA having mooted plans in recent times to potentially expand the tournament to a biennial staging, Xavi feels there should be no further restructures or moves from its traditional off-season berth.

"FIFA plans to organise the World Cup every two years," he added. "Now we have the World Cup in Qatar during the winter period.

"I think it would be better if the tournament is compiled at a separate time. Then the other time is allocated to the clubs."

Ousmane Dembele has revealed he told Barcelona coach Xavi he would sign a new contract with the club as far back as December.

France international Dembele looked to be heading out of Barcelona in January when acrimonious wrangling over his future led to him being ordered to find a new club.

At the time, Dembele had refused an extension to his deal, which ran through to the end of June, and Barcelona wanted to recoup some of his value rather than see him leave on a free transfer.

Despite reported interest from Paris Saint-Germain and a number of Premier League clubs, the 25-year-old signed a new two-year deal in July.

Having tallied the most assists (13) and expected assists (9.2 xA) in LaLiga last season, Dembele has recorded four league goal contributions this term (two goals, two assists).

 

The former Borussia Dortmund man is loving life at Camp Nou and revealed he told Xavi last year he would sign fresh terms with the Catalan giants.

"With Xavi's confidence, I had to stay. I remember a meeting between him and me in December, and I told him that I was going to sign my contract," he told RMC Sport.

"I feel good in the locker room, with all these young people. This whole team is developing well.

"I've always told Xavi that I wanted to stay at the club. There were negotiations and I didn't settle, but I didn't tell myself that I was going to leave the club.

"I've been here for the past five years, and it's better now because everyone is talking about football.

"I've always dreamed of playing for Barcelona. I have realised my dream, and I'm very happy."

Dembele is likely to be in action for France over the next week as Didier Deschamps' side take on Austria and Denmark in the Nations League. 

Everything appeared to be heading towards Barcelona and Ousmane Dembele parting on poor terms after a largely unsatisfactory association.

"Either he renews, or we look for an exit," Xavi said in January, fielding the latest in a series of questions about the winger.

With Dembele failing to agree to a new Barcelona contract at the start of 2022, director of football Mateu Alemany was even more forthright, declaring: "He must leave the club immediately."

Fast forward eight months, and the unpredictable attacker has emerged as a key cog in a revitalised Barca side, one tipped to compete with Real Madrid after making an unbeaten start in LaLiga.

Having been in the cold since Euro 2020, Dembele is also back in the France squad for their upcoming Nations League matches, with his sights set on claiming a spot in Didier Deschamps' party for the World Cup in Qatar.

Football loves a redemption arc, and that of Dembele in 2022 is up there with the very best in recent memory.

On the eve of his France return, Stats Perform looks at Dembele's journey from €105million flop to the creative hub of Xavi's side, asking whether a World Cup flourish is next for the winger.

Injury woes and the long shadow of Neymar

Barcelona's failings following Neymar's 2017 move to Paris Saint-Germain have been well-documented, with Dembele long viewed as the ultimate personification of the shambolic recruitment policy during Josep Maria Bartomeu's tenure.

The Blaugrana parted with an initial €105m for Dembele, who recorded 30 goal contributions (10 goals, 20 assists) and created 100 chances in his lone season with Borussia Dortmund.

That substantial fee saw Dembele, a talented yet raw 20-year-old, touted as a replacement for Neymar, a pressure that appeared to weigh heavily on the Frenchman; he needed over seven months to score his first goal in LaLiga, finally finding the net at Celta Vigo in April 2018.

While Ernesto Valverde led Barca to a domestic double in 2017-18, Dembele's own contribution was limited by a series of injury setbacks, which represented a sign of things to come.

 

Dembele made just 17 league appearances and 12 starts in his debut campaign, having been ruled out until January 2018 after suffering a serious hamstring injury within a month of his arrival.

In three of Dembele's first five campaigns at Barca, injuries ruled him out for 100 days or more. Between the beginning of 2017-18 and the end of 2020-21, meanwhile, he started just 36 per cent of the club's league games.

On the rare occasions Dembele did stay fit, meanwhile, his output was negligible in a side increasingly reliant on Lionel Messi's brilliance. Dembele's tally of 17 league goals and 14 assists in his first four seasons hardly represented value for Barcelona's mammoth investment, meaning the winger was considered ripe for a sale as the club's economic position worsened.

From contract rebel to key man: Spearheading the Xavi revival 

Even LaLiga's casual observers must have grown tired of discussions over the economic "levers" being pulled by Joan Laporta's regime. But before the sales of future TV rights and production companies, shifting Dembele was touted as a means by which to balance the books after the January arrival of Ferran Torres.

With a loan move for Adama Traore leaving Barcelona's forward line well-stocked, the message could not have been clearer; if Dembele would not agree to fresh terms, he was surplus to requirements.

But with Traore struggling on his return to Spain and Torres regularly deployed centrally, Xavi decided to utilise Dembele once the January transfer window closed. He was richly rewarded after reinstating him on the right of Barca's attack.

Since Xavi took charge in November 2021, Dembele's 17 assists in all competitions is bettered only by Messi (22) and Kevin De Bruyne (21) among players in Europe's top five leagues, while his 15 LaLiga assists during that time is a team-high.

Dembele also leads Barca's charts for chances created (63), chances created from open play (52) and touches in the opposing box (126) under Xavi in LaLiga, finally combining his menacing dribbling ability with genuine threat and creativity.

 

And Dembele's 68 dribbles completed in that time – also a team-high – show he has not sacrificed the individual skill that attracted Barcelona's attentions five years ago. 

Three months on from Dembele being booed by his own supporters during a Europa League clash with Napoli, Xavi said: "When he has not been involved, we have noticed."

The former midfield maestro was right. Barcelona won two-thirds of the league games Dembele started last season, and 47.8 per cent of those he didn't.

That impact meant Dembele's belated contract renewal, finalised in July, was received with enthusiasm by everyone at Camp Nou, with the winger subsequently going from strength to strength.

The tonic to Deschamps' blues?

If some thought the arrival of Raphinha might threaten Dembele's place in Xavi's side, he has made them eat their words at the start of the new campaign.

Having tallied the most assists (13) and expected assists (9.2 xA) in LaLiga last season, Dembele has recorded four league goal contributions since the August restart (two goals, two assists), forcing his way back into Deschamps' thoughts.

By the end of August, Dembele had been involved in more shots (15) as a consequence of ball carries than any other player in LaLiga, and his dynamic, unpredictable style may be just what Les Bleus require.

 

Dembele was used sparingly at Euro 2020, with Antoine Griezmann preferred alongside Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe as France won just once in four outings. However, it's easy to see why Dembele's ability to hug either touchline might appeal to Deschamps, offering him tactical flexibility when several other options appear compromised. 

Griezmann's lack of game-time at Atletico Madrid has been subject to much debate in recent weeks, while Kingsley Coman is out of France's latest squad through injury. Benzema's own injury scare, meanwhile, will no doubt have sharpened Deschamps' mind on the need for a plan B.

With France failing to win any of their first four Nations League games this time around, Dembele's Barcelona revival may have come at the perfect time.

Should Dembele carry his club form onto the international stage, potentially contributing to the first successful World Cup defence since Brazil's 1962 win, his 2022 will surely go down as one of football's most emphatic comebacks. 

Jules Kounde opted to join Barcelona over Chelsea as he "preferred Xavi's speech" to Thomas Tuchel's.

The France international had looked set to sign for Chelsea during the most recent transfer window, only to put pen to paper on a five-year deal at Camp Nou.

Sevilla director of football Monchi suggested at the time that Barca pounced for Kounde after Chelsea had withdrawn their offer due to "having doubts".

However, in an interview with French outlet L'Equipe, Kounde insisted the decision was his own after being wooed by Barca head coach Xavi.

"First, I have come to a huge club, which has known good times and which, lately, has had less," he said.

"I come to a project that I would not call reconstruction, because we already have a competitive team, but rather, being upturned.

"I was interested in being part of this new wave, in search of titles, and to put Barca back where it has always been, among the best clubs. 

"Then there was the conversation with the coach. We talked about football. I felt a real confidence from him, that he had a real knowledge of myself, my game and my qualities.

"I spoke with Tuchel and I also felt that he wanted me to come, but I simply preferred Xavi's speech."

Chelsea have made a slow start to the 2022-23 season and recently brought an end to Tuchel's 20-month tenure.

Despite their high-profile financial issues, meanwhile, Barca have made a strong start to their campaign and are two points off LaLiga leaders Real Madrid after six matches.

Kounde was registered by Barcelona at the end of August, a month after joining, and has helped the Catalan giants to four clean sheets in his five appearances.

Indeed, the five clean sheets Barca have kept in their opening six league matches is a tally they did not reach until 21 games played last season.

And Kounde, one of two defenders alongside team-mate Alejandro Balde to have provided two assists in a single LaLiga match this term, believes he is well suited to Xavi's style.

"When I talked to Xavi he told me that my qualities correspond to his game plan, starting from the back, playing high, using my qualities of speed and anticipation," Kounde said. 

"He also wants an aggressive team – we are one of the teams that presses high.

"He saw me in this system and I too saw myself in this team that I saw make a pretty crazy rise in the table last season. 

"With Sevilla we were 15 points ahead of them in the middle of the season. Xavi arrived and I saw the changes he made and what direction he was going in. I liked it."

Barcelona head coach Xavi believes "everyone is prepared" as he highlighted the importance of squad players after the 3-0 victory over 10-man Elche at Camp Nou.

Memphis Depay's strike and Robert Lewandowski's double saw Barca cruise to a fifth win in their opening six La Liga games, while adding a fourth consecutive league clean sheet.

The three points moved them top of the table ahead of Sunday's Madrid derby, and Xavi believes squad depth will be vital as Barcelona bid to land their first LaLiga title since the 2018-19 campaign.

"We are a broad squad, in which everyone trains well. Everyone is prepared and plugged in when the team needs it, and that's what's important," Xavi said.

"It's an atypical year with a tight schedule. We won't rest for a few weeks, and we need everyone. It's about making a group. Whoever plays, the team is up to the task.

"We have plenty to choose from, many options, and in the end the squads are the ones that win the titles, not the starting 11."

Two of Barcelona's best performers against LaLiga's bottom side were youngsters Alejandro Balde and Pedri, and Xavi was full of praise for the teenage pair.

"He [Pedri] is one of the best who's come through here. He understands the game, makes a difference with the pass, doesn't lose the ball. We have to take care of him," the 42-year-old Xavi said.

"They [Elche] did a lot of individual marking and Balde can generate superiority inside and out. It is surprising that an 18-year-old boy plays at that level.

"He's in great physical condition, and he's going to give us a lot."

Jordi Cruyff officially became Barcelona's sporting director of football on Friday in a move described by coach Xavi as "a great decision from the club".

The Dutchman, son of Barcelona great Johan Cruyff and a former player himself for the Blaugrana, was brought back to Camp Nou by president Joan Laporta last year to take up a strategic role in the football operation.

Now, Cruyff has signed a deal to be the club's sporting director of football, working in tandem with Mateu Alemany, who already holds down a similar role.

Cruyff had been operating in his new role for several weeks, prior to putting pen to paper.

Barcelona announced in a statement: "Jordi Cruyff has signed his contract as FC Barcelona's new sporting director of football. He has already been serving in the role since July 1.

"An FC Barcelona player from 1993 to 1996, he returned to the club last season as director of the international area of the football section and played a key role in the two most recent transfer windows as a member of the sporting commission."

Xavi believes 48-year-old Cruyff can bring a positive influence to bear after being handed increased responsibility.

A former coach of Chinese Super League side Shenzhen, Cruyff will be taking decisions that directly affect Xavi and the first team.

Xavi said: "First of all, I'm going to ask if he can invite me for dinner to celebrate this. I've very happy for him but also for us.

"He is a very capable person, very intelligent, he knows a lot about football; he is very loyal to me personally but also to the entire staff.

"It is a great decision from the club, I back it 100 per cent. I've always said many times, whether it's me here as a coach or not, both Mateu and Jordi are fantastic in the role and for the club."

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