Barcelona president Joan Laporta concedes his side's premature Champions League exit is a shame but was philosophical about their "young project" under Xavi.

The Blaugrana were officially eliminated and consigned to the Europa League following Inter's 4-0 win over Viktoria Plzen earlier on Wednesday, before producing a limp home display in a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich.

Barcelona have been condemned to a group-stage exit for the second straight season, while that comes almost 12 months since Xavi's appointment to replace Ronald Koeman.

The five-time Champions League winners spent significantly in Xavi's first off-season at the helm, bringing in Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen, Hector Bellerin, Franck Kessie, Marcos Alonso and Raphinha.

Barca's failure to reach the Champions League knockout stages will have a financial impact on the club, but Laporta was philosophical.

"It's a shame, but you can't blame the players or the coach for anything," Laporta told Barca TV. "We have to look forward, because we have LaLiga and other competitions left.

"This is a young project in which from the beginning we knew we were going to have ups and downs. The league remains and we have to show that we continue."

The Blaugrana are second in LaLiga after a strong start to the campaign with 28 points from 11 games, three points behind Real Madrid, whose El Clasico victory earlier this month put them top.

"LaLiga is very important and we have it close," Laporta said. "The message is to look forward. This has already happened."

Barca's 3-0 home loss to the German champions marked the sixth straight defeat against Bayern, including the 8-2 Champions League quarter-final rout in 2020.

"Bayern is a consolidated and powerful team, one of the best in Europe and they did not play anything, they left relaxed," Laporta added.

"For us it was very complicated and the [Inter] game against Plzen was torture, but we still have faith."

Barca midfielder Pedri was more forthright in his assessment of the side's elimination.

"For me it's a failure," he told Movistar. "We don't deserve to be in the Champions League, we've shown it in games. But we have many competitions to face and give joy to the fans who have been with us at all times."

This was the first time Barca have been eliminated from the Champions League group stage in back-to-back seasons since the 1997-98 and 1998-99 campaigns under Louis van Gaal.

Madrid will be Spain's only team in the last 16 with Sevilla, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid all out with a game to spare. The last season Spain only had one team in the knockout rounds was 1998-99, also Los Blancos.

Xavi believes Barcelona being eliminated from the Champions League prior to kick-off led to their insipid showing in a 3-0 home defeat to Bayern Munich.

Inter's 4-0 win against Viktoria Plzen earlier on Wednesday meant Barca were unable to progress from Group C, leading to a second season of dropping into the Europa League following the group stage.

A slow start from the Blaugrana saw them fall 2-0 down after 31 minutes, with Sadio Mane and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting scoring, before Benjamin Pavard tapped in a third in second-half stoppage time.

Speaking after the loss, the Barca coach acknowledged his side were outclassed, saying: "Today we didn't compete, we didn't reach their level. [Bayern] were very good, much better, more intense.

"I'm sure that the elimination before the game affected us psychologically. I'm sure it did."

This was the first time Barca have been eliminated from the Champions League group stage in back-to-back seasons since the 1997-98 and 1998-99 campaigns under Louis Van Gaal.

Xavi bemoaned being drawn into a tough group, and seemed to suggest that he and the club will not necessarily view their elimination as "failure".

"We were drawn in a really difficult group and everything has happened to us in the Champions League," he added. "It was very cruel, but today we didn't compete. On other days we did, but not today.

"I understand that from the outside people talk about failure, but from the inside we have a different analysis.

"It's a cruel way to go out of the competition, but if we analyse the other games, I think we deserved more."

Bayern Munich eased to a 3-0 win to compound a miserable day for Barcelona as they were eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage for a second successive season.

Inter's 4-0 win against Viktoria Plzen earlier on Wednesday had already sealed Barca's fate, which led to a sombre mood from the first whistle at Camp Nou.

First-half goals from Sadio Mane and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting were followed by a Benjamin Pavard strike with the last kick of the game.

Bayern were already through from Group C but confirmed themselves as group winners ahead of Inter with this win, with Barca dropping into the Europa League.

2 - #FCBarcelona has been eliminated of UEFA Champions League #UCL group stage in back-to-back seasons, something that had not happened since the 1997-98 and 1998-99 campaings under Louis Van Gaal. Disappointment.

— OptaJose (@OptaJose) October 26, 2022

It took just 10 minutes for Bayern to strike after Serge Gnabry played a ball through to Mane, who outpaced Hector Bellerin before calmly dinking the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

The second also came thanks to an assured pass from Gnabry as Bayern countered and Choupo-Moting was slipped in on the right of the penalty area, firing his shot through the legs of Ter Stegen just after the half-hour mark.

The hosts thought they had a penalty just before half-time when referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot after Robert Lewandowski was felled by Matthijs de Ligt, but a VAR check revealed the Dutch centre-back got a touch on the ball before any contact was made with the former Bayern man.

Gnabry had the ball in the net with a terrific left-foot finish to Ter Stegen's right 10 minutes into the second half, yet his effort was ruled out for offside.

A game that had the feeling of a dead rubber fizzled out, with Lewandowski and Co. never looking like getting back into the game before Gnabry had his third assist of the night as his volley from a corner found Pavard at the far post for a tap-in.

Xavi is refusing to give up hope of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League, even if he accepts his side face an almighty challenge to advance to the last 16.

Barca face being eliminated from the competition in the group stage in successive seasons heading into Wednesday's home tie with Bayern Munich.

Xavi's side will be unable to progress should they lose or if Inter beat bottom side Viktoria Plzen, while they will also be eliminated should both games be drawn.

The Catalan giants will be aware of their fate ahead of kick-off at Camp Nou as Inter host Plzen earlier in the day, but Xavi insists that result will not impact his team selection.

"We will all watch the game together in the locker room," Xavi said at Tuesday's pre-match news conference. "Regardless of what happens, we want to show we can compete.

"I already decided on the line-up on Monday, except for any injuries that occur. This is all regardless of what happens in the Inter game."

Barca's dramatic 3-3 draw with Inter two weeks ago effectively leaves them needing wins over Bayern and Plzen, while requiring favours elsewhere.

They have lost nine of their 12 Champions League games against next opponents Bayern, who are already through to the last 16, including the past five in a row.

Indeed, only Bayern themselves against Real Madrid (10) have lost more games against a single opponent in the history of the Champions League.

"It's not so much that we require a miracle, because we have a slight bit of hope," Xavi said. "We know it doesn't all depend on us, making it an uncomfortable situation.

"But we know that regardless of what happens in Milan, we face an important match. We have to beat Bayern to show we can compete at this level.

"While there is a little hope we must not lose it. We have done our homework. This competition is being cruel to us, but it's the reality we face."

Jose Mourinho last week labelled clubs that drop into the Europa League in the next round as a result of finishing third in their Champions League group as "failed sharks".

However, when asked for his response to Roma head coach Mourinho's remarks, Xavi said: "There's nothing to answer. If we have to play in that competition, we will compete.

"The [Europa League] is not something we're thinking about yet but if we do compete in that competition we'll go out and fight like lions to win it."

Barcelona have lost their past two home games against German opponents in Europe – against Bayern and Eintracht Frankfurt – but have never previously lost three in a row.

As is always the case when Barcelona fall short in the Champions League, the local media reaction was unforgiving.

"On the brink of disaster," screamed the Diario AS front page. Barcelona were hurtling towards "the abyss", according to L'Esportiu. 

Robert Lewandowski's 92nd-minute equaliser may have rescued a point in a 3-3 draw with Inter last time out in the competition, but it was not enough. 

Having suffered a 1-0 defeat at San Siro one week earlier, the result left the Blaugrana staring at an early Champions League exit.

Xavi acknowledged Barca did not deserve to progress following their madcap draw with the Nerazzurri, but that will be no consolation to their hierarchy should they bow out of the competition on Wednesday.

As Barca – just a few weeks on from a huge transfer spree and a positive start in LaLiga – prepare to host Bayern Munich in a do-or-die clash, Stats Perform examines the potential ramifications of yet another European failure.

Tracing Barca's Champions League woes as old foes visit 

Football has a funny way of throwing up narratives. Surely no team has been responsible for causing Barca greater embarrassment than Bayern, who have won nine of their 12 Champions League meetings with the Catalan giants (D1 L2).

Among those victories, of course, was an 8-2 humiliation of Quique Setien's team in the 2019-20 quarter-finals, an historic result that hastened Lionel Messi's attempts to quit Camp Nou that year.

Bayern also appeared to take great joy in crushing Barca last season, preventing Xavi's men from reaching the last 16 for the first time since 2003-04 (when they were absent from the competition entirely) by thrashing them 3-0 in a match with no consequences for the Bavarians.

The German side are already assured of their own last-16 spot again ahead of Wednesday's match, but they will no doubt be keen to deal another blow to their old rivals – particularly after the less-than-amicable departure of Lewandowski in July. 

While Bayern's domestic dominance makes their obsession with Champions League success understandable, Barca have suffered extensively after failing to meet lofty European aims of late.

Barca are looking to avoid suffering consecutive group-stage eliminations for just the second time in the competition, having previously crashed out at this stage in both 1997-98 and 1998-99, but their Champions League woes stretch back beyond last season.

Since lifting the trophy in 2015, Barca have posted four quarter-final exits and one last-16 elimination, as well as an incredible collapse against Liverpool in their one semi-final appearance.

Meanwhile, Barca have been beaten by three or more goals on 10 separate occasions in their past seven Champions League campaigns, having not lost by such a margin in their previous three seasons in the competition.

For a club who are in a state of perpetual crisis despite a run of five league titles in seven seasons between 2012-13 and 2018-19, the Champions League clearly holds special importance, which has only been heightened by recent off-pitch events.

The view from the boardroom: Why qualification matters for Laporta 

The economic 'levers' pulled by Joan Laporta were the talk of the continent a couple of months ago, with Barca spending in excess of €150million on Lewandowski, Jules Kounde and Raphinha, as well as attracting four high-profile free agents.

That spree was set against a backdrop of continued economic fears, with Barca accused of gambling their future to finance a short-term rebuild.

The sales of 10 per cent of their future LaLiga broadcasting rights and 49 per cent of their in-house production company Barca Studios were required in order for the Blaugrana to meet the division's salary limits – and even that was not enough to prevent director of football Mateu Alemany having to contribute his own money to ensure Kounde's registration.

The identity of their marquee addition Lewandowski, meanwhile, raises further questions. 

The Poland international may remain his indomitable self, following up a return of 35 goals in his final Bundesliga season with Bayern by scoring 12 in his first 11 outings in LaLiga, but handing a four-year contract to a player who turned 34 in August gave an idea of where Barca's priorities lie.

It is within this context that Laporta's view of the Blaugrana's European failings must be examined.

Reports have suggested Laporta was "furious" with Barca's inability to beat Inter, and the president's frustrations were on display when he stormed into the officials' changing room following their Clasico defeat to Real Madrid four days later, earning himself a fine.

It is thought Barca have budgeted for a run to the Champions League's last eight as a minimum this season, and failing to meet that objective would reportedly cost them €20m.

With Barca and Madrid seemingly fighting a losing battle in their attempts to convince Europe's other giants to back a revival of the Super League, the loss of further revenue is unlikely to go down well in the Camp Nou boardroom.

Could Xavi pay for Laporta's approach?

While Xavi's predecessor Ronald Koeman lost his job with Barca ninth in LaLiga, overseeing the club's worst ever start to a Champions League campaign hardly helped his cause, with a 3-0 loss at Benfica last September representing a watershed moment for the Dutchman.

Xavi has goodwill in the bank after leading Barca to second in LaLiga last term, but the former midfielder recently acknowledged a European exit would deal a blow to his own job prospects.

Indeed, resounding league wins over Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao have done little to lift the mood at Camp Nou, demonstrating a shift in expectations Xavi must handle.

Signing Lewandowski, who has 91 Champions League goals to his name, has also ensured Xavi has few excuses, at odds with Koeman's patched-up, Messi-less side.

Whether fair or not, Xavi is now perceived to have the players to compete with sides like Bayern; failure to do so would undoubtedly prompt questions of both the coach and the board.

Xavi may have restored Barca's status as domestic title contenders, but as ever in Catalonia, past European glories cast a long shadow.

If Xavi oversees another continental failure, he may just pay for Laporta's approach.

Xavi credited Ousmane Dembele's willingness to take risks after the France winger starred in Barcelona's 4-0 thrashing of Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou. 

Barca moved back to within three points of Real Madrid on the LaLiga table by putting Athletic to the sword on Sunday, with Dembele opening the scoring before recording three assists.

By laying on goals for Robert Lewandowski, Sergi Roberto and Ferran Torres, Dembele recorded four goal involvements in a single game for Barca for the first time, in what was his 165th Blaugrana appearance.

Dembele's tally of five assists in LaLiga is the best in the competition this season, and Xavi described the 25-year-old as a difference-maker following Barca's victory.

"He was in the spotlight because he takes risks and it's like a flip of a coin. He was especially motivated," Xavi told Movistar.

"He understood everything well. He's here to make a difference and he's capable of doing these things."

Barca raced into a three-goal lead within 22 minutes as Athletic collapsed, before controlling possession as Pedri repeatedly drifted inside from an unfamiliar left-wing role.

"We thought it was a game of intensity and rhythm, we understood that they were going to put a lot of pressure on us," Xavi said of Barca's approach.

"We put one more midfielder in and we attacked inside. We found the superiority and we matched their intensity, those were the keys. We showed solidarity and it was a complete game."

Barca endured a run of just one win in four matches earlier this month, losing to Clasico rivals Madrid and failing to beat Inter in two Champions League meetings, leading captain Sergio Busquets to emphasise the importance of their response.

"We came from a difficult week after losing against Madrid, but we have remade ourselves with two good games and we continue to fight for the top positions here," Busquets said.

"We came out very strong, because we knew that they are a very intense team and we wanted to match that intensity. 

"We had ten minutes of great success in front of goal and that made it easy for us to break up the match."

Ousmane Dembele scored and assisted three others as Barcelona warmed up for Wednesday's Champions League clash with Bayern Munich by thrashing Athletic Bilbao 4-0 at Camp Nou.

Xavi's team raced into a three-goal lead before half-time in Thursday's mauling of Villarreal and they repeated the trick on Sunday as Sergi Roberto and Robert Lewandowski joined Dembele on the scoresheet within 22 minutes.

Having set up Roberto and Lewandowski, Dembele continued to terrorise Athletic after the break and helped Barca add some gloss when he teed up Ferran Torres for a neat finish late on.

The result moved Barca back to within three points of leaders Real Madrid in the LaLiga standings, with Los Blancos having moved clear with a 3-1 win over Sevilla on Saturday. 

Dembele opened the scoring after 12 minutes, testing Unai Simon before nodding in Lewandowski's cross after the striker had recycled the loose ball.

There was more fortune about Barca's second, which arrived when Roberto's shot deflected beyond Simon from a tight angle following Dembele's throughball. 

Dembele played a role again in Barca's third as Athletic crumbled, driving inside from the right to feed Lewandowski, who swivelled and lashed into the roof of the net.

Barca suffered a blow when Gavi limped off following a collision with Dani Garcia before the break, but they almost scored a fourth when Garcia's clearance hit Pedri and crashed against the post.

Dembele showcased his creative qualities once again when Barca completed the rout after 73 minutes, drilling a low cross into Torres, who shifted the ball to his right foot before finishing coolly. 

Barcelona boss Xavi believes his side answered their critics with their emphatic 3-0 win over Villarreal in LaLiga, stating that they "had to react" after their mixed recent form.

The Blaugrana ran rampant in a seven-minute stretch just after the half-hour mark, as Robert Lewandowski seized a quickfire double and Ansu Fati added a third at Camp Nou.

Victory means Barca trail league leaders Real Madrid by three points after defeat in El Clasico over the weekend, but also snaps a two-game winless streak to get them back on top.

With just one win in their previous four before Thursday's win, Xavi acknowledged his side needed to answer their critics, and was delighted that they did so in such impressive fashion.

"We played a great game," he stated. "It was our turn [to win] - we had to reach. It wasn't easy, because a lot was expected of us after poor results.

"There are many expectations placed upon us this season. But we showed our true face, we showed character. It is a good feeling in general."

Barca rung the changes following their capitulation in El Clasico, with Fati leading one of five swaps to the starting XI, with Frenkie de Jong handed the nod in midfield and Raphinha and Ousmane Dembele dropped.

Xavi suggested his rotations were pre-planned rather than as a result of defeat to Madrid, adding: "On Sunday, there will be changes again.

"We have fatigue among our players. We need intensity and we need rhythm. Players must be plugged in, for the minutes they play."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has been fined €602 for storming into the referee's changing room after his team's 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in El Clasico on Sunday.

First-half goals from Karim Benzema and Federico Valverde left Barcelona facing a 2-0 deficit at the break, but a Ferran Torres strike with seven minutes to play gave the visitors hope.

That was soon extinguished though as a VAR review led to the award of a Madrid penalty after Eric Garcia tripped Rodrygo, who scored from the spot to secure three points for his side and condemn Xavi's men to defeat.

The result sparked a furious reaction from Laporta, who confronted referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez in the official's changing room after the match.

The Competition Committee fined him on Wednesday, citing article 133 of the disciplinary code, which relates to non-compliance with orders, as well as article 255, which stipulates those who access the changing rooms when they are not allowed to face potential sanctions.

Sunday's defeat saw Madrid leapfrog Barca to the top of LaLiga, another blow for Laporta's team after their Champions League hopes were left hanging by a thread following a 3-3 home draw against Inter last week.

Xavi says under-fire midfielder Sergio Busquets remains "vital" to Barcelona, insisting his captain will make his own decision on whether to stay at Camp Nou next season.

Busquets was criticised for his performance as Barcelona fell to a 3-1 defeat to Clasico rivals Real Madrid on Sunday, having been replaced by Gavi on the hour mark at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The future of the 34-year-old, who has won 30 pieces of silverware during his decorated 14-year spell with the club, has been the subject of speculation, with his contract set to expire at the end of the season.

Xavi, however, still views the defensive midfielder as a crucial component in his side, saying: "When you lose, we are all exposed. For me, Busquets is still important. 

"There will be games in which he plays less or doesn't play, but he'll still be vital. Busi and the other captains add up. 

"We have a healthy dressing room and that makes me feel that things will end up working out. There's a good atmosphere and positivity." 

Reports have suggested Major League Soccer outfit Inter Miami are keen to take Busquets to the United States upon the expiration of his deal, and Xavi says his former team-mate will have the final say on his future.

"His contract ends, it's a reality and we'll see what happens throughout the season, how he feels and how he performs," Xavi added.

"It's a very personal decision of his. I also left Barcelona despite having an offer to renew. Nico [Gonzalez] and [Miralem] Pjanic decided to leave. 

"We have options; Frenkie [de Jong], Franck Kessie, or to try a central defender, which would not be the most advisable thing. That's why Busi is so important."

Barcelona are back in league action when they host Villarreal on Thursday, when they will bid to avenge May's 2-0 loss to the Yellow Submarine, their only defeat to Villarreal in the duo's last 26 league meetings (W19 D6).

Xavi demanded more "aggression" from his Barcelona players after a 3-1 Clasico defeat against Real Madrid on Sunday.

Barca were usurped at the summit of LaLiga as strikes from Karim Benzema and Federico Valverde and a late Rodrygo penalty sealed a comfortable win for Carlo Ancelotti's champions at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The defeat was Barca's first of the season in LaLiga and Xavi called for more from his players, starting with Thursday's clash against Villarreal.

"We're leaving empty-handed. We haven't taken advantage of our moments and Madrid have," he said.

"We weren't bad in the first half, but if we want to win this type of match, we have to change our mentality. 

"It worries me that we haven't been at our level of play. The first goal can't happen.

"We're in a situation that doesn't work out for us and we have to change it as of Thursday. I can't be happy with losing 3-1.

"We have been very good in the league but we have to improve our forcefulness and aggression.

"I don't think that the Inter game [in midweek] had an influence. Without playing a great game, we've had our moments to draw 1-1, 2-2, but when you don’t concentrate at the Bernabeu these things happen."

Barca now trail their rivals by three points and return to league action with the visit of Villarreal on Thursday.

Xavi brought Jules Kounde straight back into Barcelona's team for Sunday's Clasico clash with Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Kounde, a big-money signing from Sevilla, returned to training earlier this week after recovering from a hamstring issue sustained on international duty with France in September.

His return to the starting XI, which marks his Clasico debut, came at the expense of Gerard Pique, who was culpable for one of Inter's goals in Wednesday's 3-3 draw in the Champions League, which left Barca on the brink of an early exit from the competition.

Frenkie de Jong also came into the team, replacing Gavi, while Marcos Alonso made way for Alejandro Balde at left-back.

Xavi stuck with the same front three that started against Inter, with Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha flanking Robert Lewandowski, the latter two, like Kounde, making their Clasico debuts.

Lewandowski has scored six goals in eight meetings with Real Madrid, all in the Champions League, making him the player who has scored the most goals against Los Blancos in the history of that competition.

Sergio Busquets, meanwhile, will equal Francisco Gento (21 wins) as the player with the most victories in Clasico history in all competitions should Barca win.

Carlo Ancelotti was unable to call on goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who has failed to recover from injury in time to feature for the hosts, so Andriy Lunin retained his place.

Ancelotti was otherwise able to name what many would consider a first-choice XI, spearheaded by Karim Benzema, who has been involved in 20 goals in 38 Clasicos, a record only bettered by Lionel Messi in the 21st century (40).

Xavi understands the frustration of Barcelona fans on the back of their Champions League difficulties, but remains a "natural optimist".

Barca are in danger of failing to make the knockout stages of the Champions League for a second straight season after their 3-3 draw with Inter on Wednesday.

It left the Blaugrana on four points, eight adrift of Group C leaders Bayern Munich and three behind Inter with two games remaining.

Due to Inter's head-to-head record against the Catalan giants, the Serie A side will guarantee progression to the round of 16 with another three points from their two remaining matches.

Barca have enjoyed a strong start in LaLiga, winning seven of eight matches, and head into Sunday's Clasico against rivals Real Madrid ahead of the champions on goal difference at the top of the table.

Xavi, therefore, remains buoyed by the turnaround he has seen since taking over at Camp Nou 11 months ago, suggesting he would quit his post if he was not happy with the progress made.

"I understand the doubts, I know where I am. We couldn't afford to slip up in midweek, and we did," Xavi said in a press conference on Saturday.

"I understand how the Barca fans feel. I'm also disappointed and sad. I came here to turn the team around and we can manage that. 

"If I ever feel I'm not capable of doing that, I'll sit down here and I'll say so.

"That's the way I am, I'm a natural optimist. We've improved since last season. In LaLiga we're going well, we haven't lost a game yet.

"The season we're having makes me believe I have reason to remain optimistic.

"I will not stop working and insisting on what I do. The day I don't see it clearly, I'm going home. The day I don't think I'm a solution, I'll leave. It won't be a problem. But now I'm fine."

Xavi also stressed he has the backing of Barca president Joan Laporta, adding: "He conveyed total confidence to me. We've stood up to be counted in every game in Europe.

"The president is also very optimistic. The result the other day is a shame, as are the results in Milan and Munich. This year's Champions League has been cruel to us. But we're progressing well."

Recent Clasico history is not on Barca's side - they have lost five of their past six matches against Madrid in all competitions, as many defeats as they had suffered in their previous 18 meetings with Los Blancos.

Their only win in the last six games came in the second Clasico last season, though, and it was an emphatic 4-0 triumph at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Barcelona have "maximum" motivation for the Clasico, according to Xavi, who has urged the Blaugrana to "be brave and show personality" when they face Real Madrid on Sunday.

The two LaLiga heavyweights have set the early pace this season, with Barca edging their great rivals thanks to a superior goal difference after both earned 22 points from eight matches.

Those unbeaten records will be on the line when they go head-to-head at Santiago Bernabeu, where Xavi masterminded a stunning 4-0 victory in his first LaLiga Clasico as a coach back in March.

Tata Martino, in 2014, was the last Barca coach to win his first two Clasicos in LaLiga.

Former midfielder Xavi appeared in 42 Clasicos as a player – a tally only bettered by Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos (both 45) – and enjoyed 17 victories with Barca while racking up five goals and eight assists.

Knowing exactly what is required in this fixture, he issued a rallying cry in his news conference on Saturday.

"I would like to remain a footballer to play these types of matches. It's spectacular to play such a game," Xavi said.

"This is where you have to stand up and be counted; as a coach, too. Everyone watches the Clasico and everyone's up for it. The motivation is maximum, it is an opportunity to come out more leaders of the competition.

"We need to play as a unit; we need to be compact, we need to be brave and show personality. The proof of [what you can achieve] is very clear; [look at] last year's game.

"The impact on morale if we come out of a game like this with a good result would be significant. But it's still early. We're still building; we need to keep going."

Xavi revealed left-back Marcos Alonso could partner Eric Garcia in the heart of defence as Barca look to keep Madrid's attacking options at bay, including seven-goal top scorer Vinicius Junior.

But when asked about combating Vinicius' threat, the Blaugrana coach insisted his side were not only concerned about the in-form Brazil international.

"It's not just Vinícius that we have to stop; it's also [Karim] Benzema, Rodrygo, [Federico] Valverde," Xavi added. "They're a competitive team who get the best out of their players.

"It's a huge game. It's not about how we stop Vinícius; it's about how we stop Madrid."

Joan Laporta has told Barcelona fans to "keep believing" as they head into El Clasico on Sunday looking to hit back from a midweek Champions League disappointment.

A 3-3 draw with Inter on Wednesday was a blow to Barca's hopes of reaching the round of 16, but a win against Real Madrid in one of the most anticipated fixtures in world football would be a perfect response.

The fierce rivals head into the match level on points, with the Catalan giants top of LaLiga by virtue of their superior goal difference.

Barca president Laporta urged supporters to maintain their faith in Xavi and his players, telling BarcaTV: "Keep believing. We have a very competitive team, with very good players who are going to bring you a lot of joy.

"Stick behind Xavi, he needs your warmth and confidence. That's what we will give him and we hope the fans do too.

"I have my full faith in Xavi and his staff, and also with the players. We have a great squad and I'm sure they'll bring us a lot of joy. We have a team to compete against anyone in Europe.

"We'll get through this. We won't ever stop working for what we want. This club has had all kinds of ups and downs over the years, but we have always bounced back. And we can still do that, from every part of the club."

Laporta acknowledged just how important Sunday's fixture could be in the title race, adding: "We're top of the league and there's a big game on the way at the Bernabeu.

"El Clasico is very important, whoever wins get a huge injection of morale and the loser takes a mighty blow. It's the kind of game you want to see. We'll go there with our heads held high. We have a team to do things there.

"I hope the players will defend the Barca shirt with the right spirit, because whenever you get knocked down, you have to pick yourself up again. We want to show how good we are and that we can win the league."

Laporta spoke of his frustration at not securing a win over Inter that would have put their chances of progressing in their own hands.

"It was a big game for us and I am sad and angry that we didn't win despite scoring three goals," Laporta said.

"It was always going to be a difficult group. We should have got a better result in Munich because we were the better team.

"And the refereeing in Milan was scandalous. We shouldn't play the victims card, but we were very unhappy with the match officials, and I spoke to UEFA about it afterwards.

"Financially, missing out on the latter stages of the Champions League is a big blow."

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