BARCELONA: Barcelona must dust themselves down after Champions League defeat to try and slow Real Madrid’s steady march towards the La Liga title in Sunday’s Clasico.

The Spanish champions can make a last stand by reeling Real’s lead in to five points at the Santiago Bernabeu, even if overhauling their arch-rivals with seven matches remaining to defend the trophy is a tough task.

Paris St Germain brought Barca’s European adventure to an end in painful fashion on Tuesday, overhauling the Catalans’ two-goal lead in the tie.

Picking up his squad emotionally after that defeat will not be an easy task for Xavi Hernandez, with some Spanish reports saying the coach may leave his post after the game with reserve team coach Rafael Marquez a possible replacement.

Xavi said in January he would depart at the end of the season and despite a strong run of form since leading to a clamour for him to stay, has not changed his mind.

Defeat by PSG in the Champions League quarter-finals may have ended any chance of that happening, beyond a miracle comeback in La Liga.

If that is to happen it must begin in the capital against a Real side exhausted but jubilant after they beat treble-winners Manchester City on penalties on Wednesday to reach the semi-finals.

“On Sunday we are playing for the league title. We have to win,” Xavi told a press conference on Saturday.

“We have to manage our feelings and move on, let the frustration and impotence of the other day [elimination from the Champions League] which are difficult to digest turn in our favour. We will have a morale-strengthened Real Madrid in front of us.

“On Sunday we have the chance to get back into La Liga title race. It will be the most important game of the season.”

Xavi praised Real for beating “the best team in the world” in City and said he will need a near flawless performance by his side to leave the Santiago Bernabeu stadium with a win.

“We will face a Real Madrid with euphoria through the roof. We need to overcome the Champions League hangover and have a team with all the enthusiasm in the world to fight for this league,” Xavi said.

Xavi’s counterpart at Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti, said his team could strike a killer blow in the title race.

“It’s a great chance for us to get closer to winning La Liga, but we know it’s hard because Barcelona are a very competitive side,” the Italian told a press conference on Saturday. “We are very close if we are capable of winning ... it will be the usual Clasico, a hard-fought, equal game.”

Real are aiming to win a league and Champions League double for the fifth time in their history.

“The cake is prepared and we have to put the cherry on top this month,” said Ancelotti. “We’re very well positioned.”

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2024

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