Barcelona will lock horns with Rayo Vallecano in their first game of the 2022/23 La Liga season at Camp Nou on Saturday night.
Having finished the last season in the runners-up spot, the Blaugrana will be raring to get of to a winning start and mount a strong title challenge as they look to topple their arch-rivals Real Madrid from the top.
Ahead of the game, the headlines have been hogged by Barcelona’s inability to register any of their new signings.
And naturally, in his customary press conference, manager Xavi Hernandez was asked about the same and the 42-year-old exuded confidence that the club were doing their best to register the players. “We are really optimistic about the players’ registration,” he said.
Despite the struggles to register the new signings, Barcelona continue to be linked with more players, with Marcos Alonso likely to arrive imminently while a move for Bernardo Silva is also in the works. Talking about more incomings before the window closes, Xavi said:
“We’re still planning the season, we’ll see until August 31. There must be departures for there to be signings. We are working to have a competitive team.”
Frenkie de Jong’s future has been the talk of the town, as he continues to be linked with a move to Chelsea and Manchester United. Opening up about the Dutchman’s situation, Xavi added: “He’s important for me. Until August 31, we’ll see. The market is still open and we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”
Along with de Jong, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s name has also been dragged into the rumour mill, with Chelsea pushing to sign him. However, Xavi insisted that he continues to count on the 33-year-old hitman for the upcoming season.
“I’m counting on him. Those I don’t count on already know that they’re not going to play. A lot of things can happen, but I’m happy with Aubameyang,” he said.
Talking about the game against Rayo Vallecano, the manager said: “We start a new season with good enthusiasm and new signings, it’s will be an important test against Rayo.
“Rayo is an organized team, they press well, they play fast. It’s going to be a nice challenge for us, and we’re going to try to win and get the three points.”
The manager was also quizzed about the links to Marcos Alonso of Chelsea, but he refused to be drawn into speculations, stating: “He is not our player, so it’s not worth talking about him. We will have Balde and Jordi Alba for tomorrow’s game.”
Ansu Fati will be gearing up for an important season after having endured serious injury issues over the past couple of seasons. And Xavi insisted that the La Masia ace will be a crucial player for the team this campaign.
“Ansu is a player with a differential capacity that very few have. He must be very important for Barcelona. Ansu Fati is a generational player,” he said.
Talking about the objectives for the season and the pressure to deliver trophies, Xavi said: “The objective of this season is to win titles. Pressure is welcome… I enjoy it a lot because I know where I am.”
De Jong has also been in the news due to his contract situation and refusal to take a pay cut. In contrast, Gerard Pique is willing to sacrifice a large part of his wages to help the team with player registration.
“Everyone is making an effort to be better as a team. I think both can make an effort to help the club,” Xavi said, talking about the duo’s contracts.
On Nico’s decision to leave Barcelona on loan to join Valencia, Xavi said: “He came to talk to me and I asked him to stay at the club. He insisted to me that he wanted to leave Barça to play a lot of games, he said he had found a team where he could play a lot.”
Confirming that Miralem Pjanic will not be leaving this summer, Xavi stated: “Pjanic has convinced me and he will stay with us.”
With Pjanic staying, Barcelona’s midfield roster has a lot of depth and the manager spoke about the players he could now use as a pivot to rest club captain Sergio Busquets regularly.
“We have several options… Pjanic, Kessie, Frenkie de Jong, Sergi Roberto, and Christensen. All of them could play as a pivot,” he exclaimed.
The manager was full of praise for new signing Raphinha, likening him to former Barcelona superstars Neymar and Rivaldo.
“Raphinha has characteristics that Neymar and Rivaldo had. He will be a differential player for us. Raphinha looks like Neymar as a winger, but has Rivaldo’s shot,” Xavi stated.
The 42-year-old tactician also talked about marquee summer arrival Robert Lewandowski, saying: “Lewandowski is a goalscorer, he is different and gives space to his teammates. Lewandowski came here humble and motivated.”
Speaking about the future of Memphis Depay, who looks destined to leave, Xavi added: “We will see what happens. La Liga will start tomorrow, we have to focus on that…”
Xavi also denied that de Jong was whistled at during the Joan Gamper Trophy clash, stating that the Dutchman was instead cheered on by the supporters. “There weren’t whistles, there were applause from the fans.”
Talking about the schedule for the season, with the World Cup set to be played in between, the manager said: “We thought about it, and made a plan for it. It’s not going to be a little weird, but we’ll try to do it.
“In the next three weeks we have a lot of matches, and we have the Manchester City game as well. We have to be physically ready.”
Having struggled with several injuries to players last season, Xavi was hopeful that his team would fare better this time out.
“Well I don’t want to bring misfortune, but we are working on it with the medical staff, the physiotherapists and the physiotherapists. We want the safety of every player, but unfortunately we know it will happen, and we hope it won’t be too much.”