Referee case won’t destabilize Barcelona ahead of Clasico

Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez said the referee corruption scandal will not destabilize the club as they prepare to face Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on Sunday.

Barca can move 12 points clear at the top of LaLiga with a win, but building on the classic revolves around the €7m paid to the former Vice-President of the Referees Committee.

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A Spanish court this week agreed to open an investigation into corruption allegations against Barca after payments to ex-referee Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira were revealed.

On Friday, Barca president Joan Laporta said the whole saga was born out of a “campaign against the club” while he continues to protest against it Blaugrana have “never bought match officials or influence”.

Xavi said he supports Laporta’s comments and will not let the issue distract him from his team’s attempts to claim a first LaLiga title since 2019.

“They will not destabilize us,” he said at a press conference on Saturday. “We are more stable than ever – and they tried [to destabilise us] now since day 1.

“We are fully focused on winning on Sunday and making a big statement in the title race. … We think of nothing else.

“It won’t be definitive if we win, but it would be a real step forward. I’m really ready for it, it’s my first.” classic at Camp Nou [as coach] and I love these games.”

Xavi has also once again been forced to defend criticism of his side’s performance in their recent 1-0 first-leg Copa del Rey semi-final win over Madrid at the Bernabeu.

Although Barca won the game and the second leg was still scheduled to take place on April 5, Barca faced complaints after having less than 40% possession.

“What about that [insistence] 1-0?” he added when asked if he would match on Sunday. “If I could choose, I’d prefer 4-0 or 5-4, but it’s hard to score goals.

“Those who have never played football at an elite level cannot understand what it’s like to have an opponent in front of you, especially Madrid, the holders of the Champions League. To beat them 1-0 is a fantastic one Result.”

“One thing is the result and another thing is the style. We will never change the style. We will never close up shop at the back. Another thing is when teams push us back or play through our pressing.”

“But we are proactive, we will always push high. We want the ball and this idea will not change. And win 1-0? Barca won their first European Cup 1-0 with a goal of [Ronald] Koeman and nobody said anything about the style so I don’t know why it’s such a big issue now.”

Barca have won three of their four meetings with Madrid since Xavi took charge and only lost the league game at the Bernabeu last October.

Those wins include one in the Spanish Supercup final in January, but it was a 4-0 win towards the end of last season that Barca defender Ronald Araujo credits with helping the club get back on track since he has been without a championship title for almost four years.

“It was really important for us because we came out of a bit of a difficult period and had lost several games against Madrid,” Araujo told ESPN.

“I think that [4-0] game turned things around and allowed us to say, ‘We’re here, we’re on our way back.’ Now [this season]You see the fruits of our hard work.

– Lewandowkski speaks to ESPN about life at Barcelona

“Xavi came in the middle of last season and when you play so many games you can’t [change] much. I think we were able to work a lot on defense last season.”

Araujo’s struggles with Vinicius Junior have become one of the hallmarks of Barca-Madrid matches. Vinicius has scored 19 goals in all competitions this season but has failed to score in his last three head-to-head encounters against Araujo, who switches from central defender to right-back to face the Brazil international.

“For me at the moment he is No. 1 in this position in one-on-one situations,” said Araujo of their duel. “He’s a really good player, he can throw teams off balance.

“Of course it’s difficult to play against him, but I’ve worked hard to give my best and I’m glad it went well for us in that way.”

Barca will be without Ousmane Dembele and Pedri for the Madrid visit. Pedri returned to training this week and was on course to make his comeback from a hamstring injury having been sidelined since February 16, but Xavi explained he’s not quite ready.

“There was a risk,” he said. “In practice on Friday he didn’t feel 100 per cent and if you’re not 100 per cent in these games it’s best not to force it.” Referee case won’t destabilize Barcelona ahead of Clasico

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