Barcelona boss Xavi insists “nothing has changed” regarding his future following rumours he could reverse his decision to depart the club in the summer.

The former Barca and Spain midfielder, who is preparing for Sunday’s LaLiga game at fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao, announced in late January he would leave his role at the end of the season.

Barcelona have picked up form since then, taking 13 points from a possible 15 to boost their faint hopes of overhauling leaders Real Madrid in the title race.

“As of today, nothing has changed,” Xavi told a press conference.

“There is no more story than that. It all remains the same and we focus on the next game.

“It’s true we’ve done well recently; I see the team training great every day and the group of players is less tense than in the past.

“But tomorrow is a whole new story, here at Barcelona you have a challenge every day.

“The moment of the truth this season is coming, and we feel we have been good over the last weeks.”

Third-placed Barcelona thrashed Getafe 4-0 last weekend to build on recent wins over Osasuna, Alaves and Celta Vigo and a 3-3 draw with Granada.

The Catalan club will return to San Mames just over five weeks after suffering a 4-2 extra-time loss to Bilbao in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

Xavi is braced for another tough test as his side seek to maintain momentum.

“Athletic is the most intense team in the league,” he said. “And they are confident.

“If we win, it will be a big step forward.

“It’s the perfect game to match them in intensity and rhythm. Against Getafe, we rediscovered our game. Against Athletic, we have to do the same.”

Barcelona remain without injured quartet Marcos Alonso, Alejandro Balde, Gavi and Ferran Torres for the visit to the Basque country.

Xavi also hailed his former team-mate Andres Iniesta during his pre-match press conference.

Iniesta, who scored Spain’s winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final, made the 1,000th senior appearance of his career on Friday, playing for UAE-based side Emirates Club against Ajman.

“Iniesta is the greatest talent I’ve ever seen in Spanish football,” said Xavi. “A thousand games is many.

“I admire him and I love him very much, he is a great friend.”

Barcelona midfielder Gavi has undergone a successful operation on his right knee.

The 19-year-old tore his anterior cruciate ligament and damaged the lateral meniscus during the first half of Spain’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Georgia earlier this month.

The news was a major blow to club and country, with Gavi having established himself as a key player for both. He is expected to miss the rest of the season and the European Championship next summer.

A statement from Barcelona read: “First team player Gavi had a successful operation on his torn right knee anterior cruciate ligament plus a meniscus suture today.

“Supervised by the club’s medical services, Doctor Joan Carles Monllau performed the intervention at Hospital de Barcelona. His recovery will determine when he is fit to return to the squad.”

Gavi has made more than 100 appearances for Barcelona since breaking into the team in 2021.

Last season he was awarded the Kopa Trophy for best young player at the 2022 Ballon d’Or and the Golden Boy award.

What the papers say

The Daily Mail says Tottenham midfielder Giovani Lo Celso has emerged as a loan option for Barcelona to fill their Gavi-shaped gap. The Spanish side are reportedly unlikely to look for a permanent replacement after they received £6million in compensation from FIFA following the Spain international’s knee injury.

According to the Mirror, Portuguese midfielder Fabio Vieira could get the green light from Arsenal to join Marseille on loan.

Chelsea are keen to part with Romelu Lukaku in the summer transfer window, with Italian side Roma eager to make the 30-year-old’s loan move permanent, the Evening Standard reports.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Gleison Bremer: The Juventus and Brazil centre-back is reportedly keen to move to the Premier League, as per the Telegraph.

Dusan Vlahovic: The 23-year-old Serbian striker is looking to sign a contract extension at Juve, 90min reports, even though there is rumoured interest from Arsenal and Manchester United.

Barcelona midfielder Gavi has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, the club have confirmed.

The 19-year-old suffered the injury playing for Spain in their Euro 2024 qualifier against Georgia on Sunday, limping off the pitch in the opening 25 minutes.

Barca said in a statement that tests carried out on Monday morning have shown he has “a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and an associated injury to the lateral meniscus”.

He will undergo surgery in the coming days.

The extent of the injury is a big blow for Barcelona, who are currently third in LaLiga, with Gavi having established himself as a key player in their squad since making his debut at 17 years old in August 2021, making 111 appearances already.

He won the league title with Barca last season and has played 15 times for them this term.

Spain went on to win the match against Georgia 3-1 and Barcelona team-mate Ferran Torres celebrated his second-half goal by holding Gavi’s shirt up.

Speaking after the match, Spain boss Luis de la Fuente described the win as “bittersweet”.

He said: “It’s one of the most bittersweet victories I’ve ever had. As far as I can remember, it’s the hardest, the bitterest of moments, to see an important player like Gavi sustain an injury like that.

“It’s a very difficult moment for the player, for his club, for the RFEF (Spanish Football Federation), for the national team and for all his team-mates. In the dressing room it felt like we had lost. This is the ugly side of football.

“Football is a risky activity occasionally, something we often forget to appreciate. It was an unfortunate incident, but Gavi was perfectly fit to play the game and it was just unlucky, really, really unlucky.”

Barcelona boss Xavi insists his side are “ready” for their first away game in the Champions League against Porto on Wednesday.

Barca were victorious in their opening game in the competition after they ran riot with a 5-0 win over Antwerp thanks to goals from Robert Lewandowski, Gavi, Jelle Batille’s own goal and a Joao Felix double.

Xavi’s side will be looking to make it two wins from two with victory at the Estadio do Dragao which would put them in an early comfortable position of qualifying from the group stages, something they failed to do in the competition last year.

Xavi knows the size of the task in front of his team but thinks they are prepared for the challenge.

He told Barca TV: “This is the Champions League. We are ready and excited to play tomorrow.

“We have in front a very difficult club in this stadium. It will be tough and really difficult because they play well, a good team with a good coach, very intensive, but we are ready.

“We are really excited and let’s see tomorrow.”

Felix has enjoyed a bright start to life in Barcelona since making the loan switch from Spanish rivals Atletico Madrid, notching three goals in his first six matches.

The forward will come up against a team from his native Portugal but insists “it is just another game”.

He added: “It may be special because it is a Portuguese side and more family and friends will be in the stands, but this is just another game that we aim to win.

“We want to take the Champions League step by step. Our aim is to get through the group and this is probably the toughest game of the group stage.”

Porto opened their campaign with a 3-1 win against Shakhtar Donetsk and have not faced Barcelona in the Champions League for 23 years.

Boss Sergio Conceicao said: “Let’s go into the game thinking that we can and should win. With confidence. The respect we have for our opponents doesn’t have to make us afraid of anything.

“All teams have weaknesses that can be exploited. We have to be solid in defence and then take advantage of any weaknesses (in Barcelona) to win the game.”

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