Barcelona face Valencia under fire after shock loss at Antwerp

  • MADRID : Barcelona visit mid-table Valencia in LaLiga on Saturday under pressure after two defeats in four days caused criticism from fans and media unhappy with the form of Xavi Hernandez’s team.
  • A statement win over Atletico Madrid has been forgotten after a 4-2 loss at home to surprise LaLiga leaders and local rivals Girona on Sunday followed by Wednesday’s shocking 3-2 Champions League defeat at Group H bottom side Antwerp.
  • Despite Barca having already clinched top spot and a place in the last 16 for the first time in three years, the debacle in Belgium, probably their poorest performance this season, increased the scrutiny of head coach Xavi.
  • The manager initially chose to rest players like Ilkay Gundogan, Robert Lewandowski, Frenkie De Jong and Ronald Araujo, but hours after the list was released, the club announced changes to the squad, leaving out only De Jong.
  • The defeat followed a squad list controversy that made headlines on the eve of the game, with Xavi and football director Deco having to reject alleged interference by club president Joan Laporta in which players would make the trip.
  • “What we did was a consensual choice. We chose it ourselves, the club, it’s not that the coach is in a bad situation and the president or Deco in a good one,” a visibly irritated Xavi told a news conference on Wednesday.
  • “We decided, then you can take conclusions or criticise, but from the inside we have no problem.
  • “We have to be critical and try to improve, there is no other way around (it) … the vibes are not good, we are on a bad run and we have to get through this and think about Saturday, which is the important thing.”
  • Atleti host Athletic Bilbao, who are fifth on 29 points and unbeaten in their last eight games in all competitions.
  • Real Madrid dropped to second place on 39 points after a 1-1 draw at Real Betis and next host Villarreal on Sunday.
  • Girona, who are two points clear, welcome mid-table Alaves on Monday. Their stunning start to the season scaled new heights with their first-ever win over Catalan foes Barca.

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