Team news from Xavi's Old Trafford press conference
Barcelona head coach Xavi has kept his cards close to the chest regarding team selection, ahead of Thursday’s Europa League match against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Much of the pre-match focus has been on Sergio Busquets, who has not played since picking up an injury during a 3-0 win over Sevilla on 5 February and missed last week’s Europa League play-off first leg at the Nou Camp.
Barcelona fans were encouraged when Busquets was named on the bench for Sunday’s match against Cadiz, even though he was ultimately an unused substitute for the 2-0 victory.
The legendary Spain international was notably named in Barcelona’s 20-man travelling squad on Wednesday morning. He was also seen training with his team-mates on the Old Trafford pitch upon their arrival in Manchester.
Midfield is a particular area of concern for Xavi in light of 20-year-old Pedri suffering a hamstring injury during the first half of last week’s barnstormer in Catalonia.
Fellow teenager Gavi also cannot play at the Theatre of Dreams after he picked up his third yellow card of the competition during the 2-2 draw with United, meaning he is banned for one match.
French winger Ousmane Dembele is still out with a hamstring problem.
The only other change from last week’s 22-man squad is the absence of 18-year-old winger Angel Alarcon, who made his first-team debut against Ceuta in the Copa del Rey last month.
Road to Manchester ✈ pic.twitter.com/RVIfqQZGVd— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) February 22, 2023
During a press conference at Old Trafford, Xavi remained coy when asked about Gavi and Pedri missing the big game, and provided no update on Busquets.
"Dembele is also a big blow, a huge blow for us," Xavi said. "He can make a difference on the pitch. Pedri and Gavi are players that are so important for us on the pitch. Gavi has pure passion and intensity and that’s exactly what we need tomorrow. It’s a big absence for us but we have alternatives."
Looking at the match, he continued: "It's a really tough game tomorrow. They are one of the best teams in Europe, they're showing it in the way the compete and play. It's the best Man United in a few years. That's the work Ten Hag has done. They showed personality and passion at Camp Nou. It's a tough stadium to go to and it will be difficult for us."
Xavi admitted he knows his starting XI and also addressed his game plan, saying: "It could go to extra time or penalties, our idea won't change much. We want to be attacking and if we can play in their half, much better. I want them to feel uncomfortable and we have to play with intensity and passion. They showed at Camp Nou they're a great side."
Xavi also heaped praise on Marcus Rashford, telling reporters: "Rashford is an exceptional footballer, in extraordinary form. He can make the difference for Manchester United. You need to be aware he's there, but the team are more important than an individual player."
There were even warm words for Raphael Varane and Casemiro, two former La Liga players he knows all too well: "I would say both are really important. Passion, and mentality, they are used to this kind of games. With this kind of players with experience, they are making the difference for the team."
Goalkeepers: Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Inaki Pena, Arnau Tenas.
Defenders: Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen, Marcos Alonso, Jordi Alba, Jules Kounde, Eric Garcia, Alejandro Balde.
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets, Franck Kessie, Sergi Roberto, Frenkie De Jong, Marc Casado, Pablo Torre.
Forwards: Robert Lewandowski, Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres, Raphinha.