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Xavi’s wounded Barca face tough test at Real Betis

Barcelona play Real Betis on Sunday. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

Xavi Hernandez and his wounded Barcelona side visit Real Betis on Sunday in La Liga still dusting themselves down from last weekend’s humbling by Real Madrid.

The Catalans were thrashed in the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday in Saudi Arabia, leading to a week of soul searching ahead of the trip to Seville.

After an unconvincing win over third-tier Unionistas de Salamanca in the Copa del Rey on Thursday, pressure still weighs on Xavi’s shoulders with the Spanish champions’ top four ambitions under threat.

Barcelona are fourth, level with third-place Athletic Bilbao on 41 points, who visit Valencia on Saturday.

League leaders Girona host Sevilla and Real Madrid, second, welcome bottom side Almeria on Sunday.

Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis, seventh, are still aiming for Europe themselves.

Xavi said this week he would walk away from his job if he felt his players did not believe in him.

The team came up short in Riyadh as they were dismantled by their arch-rivals Madrid and Xavi criticised the performance as “lacking in every way”.

Last season Barca won the Spanish Super Cup, which was Xavi’s first trophy at the helm of the club, and it was a key milestone on the way to lifting La Liga.

Without the financial leverage to make signings in January, the coach must make do with what he has as he bids to turn the team’s form around.

Standings provided by Sofascore

Xavi lamented the long-term loss of Gavi through injury, with the midfielder’s tenacity missing in recent matches.

“We lack Gavi’s leadership, his heart,” said the coach.

“The injury to Gavi is a dagger in the heart, he is the soul of the team, that’s the reality.”

Without first choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, also out, the team has lacked security at the back.

Barcelona have been particularly bad in the first halves of matches, frequently falling behind early on.

Their defence is far weaker than last season, having already conceded more goals than in that whole league campaign, despite playing half as many games.

Up front the team is not clicking and big chances go begging, with veteran striker Robert Lewandowski in inconsistent form.

In Betis they come up against a previous nemesis in former Real Madrid playmaker Isco, who has found top form in the south of Spain.

After playing a bit-part role for Madrid and an ill-fated spell at Sevilla, the 31-year-old has dazzled this season.

“It’s a very difficult game, without a doubt,” Isco told Betis’ media channels.

“They are coming after a very tough defeat and have to find their rage and pride because if not, Madrid and Girona will escape from them.

“We have to be our best Betis to fight for the points — they will have to sweat blood to beat us here.”

Betis have various players out, including Nabil Fekir, Ayoze Perez and former Barcelona defender Marc Batra.

Regardless, they will believe they can inflict further damage on Xavi’s wobbling Barcelona.

Player to watch: Artem Dovbyk (Girona)

Girona’s top goalscorer with 11 strikes in La Liga, Dovbyk came up short in their goalless draw with Almeria last weekend and was replaced. The striker was rested in the Copa del Rey win over Rayo Vallecano in midweek and will be fresh for Sevilla’s visit on Sunday, aiming to get back on track. 

Standings provided by Sofascore

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