Xavi: "100 days? It feels like I've been here 100 years"
Barcelona's coach didn't want to give his opinion on PSG's win against Real Madrid ("Don't ask me about Mbappé) with the focus on tomorrow's clash with Napoli.
Xavi Hernández faced the media to look ahead to Thursday's Europa League meeting with Napoli. This what he had to say..
Have you a message for the fans?
This is an opportunity for us. The main objective is to qualify for next year's Champions League and we can do that via two routes - by ending LaLiga in one of the top four places or by winning the Europa League. We need the fans. We didn't have much luck in the draw because for me, Napoli is a Champions League side but our aim is to compete and get as far as we can. And the Europa League isn't the Third Division. It's a great tournament. Maybe not the best, but it's still good. The last teams to win it were Sevilla and Villarreal.
Have you found it hard to manage the emotional state of the team for having to play a less prestigious competition?
We're not kidding ourselves. We'd love to be playing in the Champions League and it's frustrating not being in it but we are in the Europa League. It's an opportunity and if we win it, we'll directly qualify for the Champions League. I see it as an opportunity. Barça and Napoli met a couple of seasons ago. We're motivated.
How is Eric Garcia coping mentally?
For me, Eric is a top level central defender. He knows that his mistake cost us a goal. It's just a shame that he fell injured just as he was reaching his best form. Now he's got to get his self confidence back. He needs to play an important role in the next few games because we are lacking centre-backs at the moment. He needs to return to his the level he was at before his injury. That's what we need to work towards.
You have been in the Barça job for 100 days. How would you rate it so far?
It feels more like 100 years because a lot of unexpected things have happened - situations relating to Covid, the winter transfer market... I am a real culé and I am trying to get Barça back where they belong. But there is a lot work to do. It's a thankful task. It's situations like these which make you grow as a person. And we're up for the job in hand. I think our game has definitely improved. In the high press, in dominating matches... But we are competing. LaLiga is the competition which tells you whether you are on the right path and I do think that we are getting better.
Is LaLiga a priority over everything else?
We are going to go for both. But that's not to say we are the favourites to win this tie. I'd say that Sevilla have more experience that we do in this kind of tournament. We don't see ourselves as favourites but rather as candidates. It's a tie that could go either way.
What did you think of Mbappé's performance against Real Madrid, is he the best in the world right now?
It's not for me to talk about Mbappé, I only talk about my players. Mbappé is a great player. And Neymar, and Messi. And PSG is a great team - as is Real Madrid. He gives them courage, that's obvious. And I am competitive and a winner. But we have to stop this - please don;t ask me about Mbappé.
Will you be rotating the team in the Europa League or stick with your best side?
Every player in the squad will be important for us. Here, there is no best side. Everyone has their purpose and they are showing that. They need to show it. We can't play a fixed XI.
After watching the first Champions League knockout ties yesterday, do you think Barça can compete at that level?
We can only guess. We would love to, but it has nothing to do with us right now. Our reality is the Europa League and Napoli. We're not here to hypothesize. We didn't do what we needed to do and that's why we are here now.
Do you think the criticism of Eric and Busquets was unfair?
At Barça, everyone is judged and criticised. You have to accept it. In my case, it made me improve as a player. It's normal. But both players are important in my plans.
Do you agree with the criticism which Messi received?
Being at PSG and being Messi, it's normal that there will be criticism. If people focus only on the penalty miss, it's understandable that some will criticise. I wish him the best. He's the best player in history without a shadow of a doubt. But he'll always have to deal with critics.
Will you be making changes to the side?
We have a very demanding fixtures calendar. We will make changes, rotate the team, but we will be trying to play with the best possible line-up and be competitive.
How much will Barça miss Daniel Alves in the Europa League?
He'll be with us in the dressing room and he'll help us because he's a positive influence. I've been a little unfair to him. Maybe with the sending off in LaLiga things might have ended up differently.
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