Barcelona will kickstart their 2022/23 UEFA Champions League campaign with a Group C encounter against Czech Republic outfit Viktoria Plzen on Wednesday night at home.
Having been eliminated at the group stages of the competition last season, the Catalan heavyweights will be intent on progressing much further in the current edition of Europe’s premier club football tournament.
On the eve of the game, manager Xavi Hernandez attended the customary pre-match press conference, during which he dropped some interesting information.
Xavi confirmed that midfielder Miralem Pjanic is leaving Barcelona, with a move to UAE-based outfit Sharjah FC now on the cards for the 32-year-old. “Pjanic has decided to leave for more opportunities and minutes, he’s been very professional,” Xavi said.
The 42-year-old also confirmed that Ansu Fati is fit enough to start games, dropping a hint that the teenage prodigy could feature from kickoff on Wednesday. “I spoke with Ansu Fati and yes, he’s ready to start. We continue our work with him.”
On Barcelona’s opponents for Wednesday, he said: “We play against a strong team. This is the UCL and we want to start in the best possible way. We got a tough group but we’re excited.
“Our goal is to qualify but in this match, we want all 3 points and have good feelings after the game to progress.”
There have been a lot of murmurs surrounding Pablo Torre’s situation as he is yet to play for the first team or the reserves. But Xavi insisted that he counts on the summer signing and will give him opportunities.
After naming the youngster in the squad for the game, Xavi said: “He’s on the squad list and I count on him. He might play tomorrow, I’m sure he’ll help us a lot.”
The Barcelona head coach also confirmed that he will shuffle his pack for the game, saying: “Yes, there will be rotations for the game. We have a lot of players and there was fatigue after the war in the Sevilla game.”
New signings Hector Bellerin and Marcos Alonso have been excluded from the squad for the Viktoria Plzen match. On their absence, Xavi said: “There are new players and they have to train a bit more to be physically ready. They’ll be with us for the next LaLiga game.”
When quizzed if veteran stars Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique would start against Viktoria Plzen, Xavi was coy in his response, saying: “They may, but if they don’t they could play in other matches too.”
In a recent interview, Ousmane Dembele hailed Xavi for the influence he had on him. Talking about the Frenchman’s words, the manager said:
“I may have influenced him a bit, but he was always eager to play from day one. I am not responsible for changing his mindset. He did that himself.”
Talking about the quality of the squad at his disposal, Xavi added: “I have a good team but the players must show their quality. I can say I have the best team and then lose tomorrow. You can ask me at the end of the season if I have the best team in the world.”
On the improvements the team has made since he took over, the manager said: “The team has progressed a lot since my arrival in November, whether it’s positional play or better attack/defense.
“We want to keep increasing our level and the results will judge our success. I’m happy with our progress.”
About Barcelona’s recent debacles in Europe, he added: “It’s hard to talk about all the problems in the Bayern and Liverpool matches. But we must not repeat them again. Let’s start with beating Viktoria Plzen.”
On what he has picked up from his former managers Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique, the 42-year-old club icon said:
“I’ve learned a lot from Guardiola and Enrique. I consider them in the top 5 coaches in the world. We want to play with possession but when the rival gives us space, we must take advantage of it, like Henry’s goal vs Madrid in the 6-2.”
On Barcelona’s chances of winning the UCL, Xavi stated: “We will compete and we dream of it. If I didn’t want to win it, I’d stay at home. It’s hard to say if we are favorites because last season we were in the Europa League but this season we’re not. We must remain humble.”