Barca coach Xavi hails rivals Madrid ahead of Clasico

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Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez praised rivals Real Madrid ahead of their Clasico showdown in La Liga on Sunday.

Los Blancos lead the Spanish top flight by eight points with champions Barcelona needing a victory at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday to stand any chance of retaining the trophy.

After Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain and Madrid beat holders Manchester City in midweek, Xavi acknowledged the record 14-time winners’ quality.

“When you have won so many times you play with more calm, less desperation, more confidence, they are a very good team,” Xavi told a news conference Saturday.

“In the end people say it’s luck, I don’t believe much in luck — I think it’s effort, defensive work, the solidarity they showed, everyone working so hard.

“The three up front worked harder than ever, Man City missed some clear chances but that’s football, it’s not luck that Madrid have knocked out the best team in the world twice in three years.”

Xavi said he was not throwing in the towel in La Liga despite Madrid’s significant advantage.

“For us it’s the most important game of the season, we have to win to put pressure on the leader,” he added.

“We have enormous respect for Real Madrid, they’ve lost just one game out of 31, their numbers are extraordinary.

“We don’t have bad numbers in La Liga, we’ve got four points less than when we were leaders last season (at this stage).”

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,” said the Italian.

“We are very close if we are capable of winning … it will be the usual Clasico, a hard-fought, equal game.”

Ancelotti said defender Ferland Mendy was tired after the win over City and was given an extra day of rest, but the rest of his squad was fit, beyond the long-term absentees.

Madrid 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.”

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