Sat, Sep 29, 2012 - Page 18 News List

Real can’t afford more slip-ups: Xavi

AFP, MADRID

Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez feels their eight-point lead over Real Madrid has piled the pressure on their bitter rivals ahead of La Liga’s first Clasico of the season a little over a week away.

The Catalan side have not always been at their best and have looked vulnerable at the back, but they travel to Sevilla today looking for their sixth successive win, compared with only two victories for Real Madrid.

While his teammates have looked to play down the lead, Xavi preferred to give importance to the gap and further stoke up the atmosphere before they go head-to-head on Oct. 7.

“Eight points is a lead that I like,” he said. “We now have a difficult away game against a strong Sevilla team, but eight points are a lot and Real cannot make more mistakes. It is good to see us in this position and Madrid have problems. Last year, they went 10 points ahead and it was as though we had lost the league, and now it is still very early on, but we need to make the most of it.”

Xavi, in the interview with Diario Sport, also had words of praise for new coach Tito Vilanova, who took over from Pep Guardiola in the summer.

“Tito isn’t someone who jokes about, he is a football man and speaks his mind. He has a lot of personality, which I knew he had. It was hidden to an extent under Pep when he didn’t speak as much, but he is a leader.”

The main worry for Barca is their defense, with Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and Adriano injured, while there is a lack of strength in depth, but former Arsenal midfielder Alex Song has come in and done well at centerhalf.

There is a stiff battle for places in Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid side as they look to put their bad start to the campaign behind them.

They ended up playing Rayo Vallecano de Madrid a day later after their match scheduled for last Sunday was postponed after the floodlights’ electricity supply was sabotaged, but they made easy work of what could have been a tough away game, with Karim Benzema setting them on their way early on.

The arrival of Luka Modric and Michael Essien has increased competition, with both playing last Monday and keeping Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira out of the team. Kaka is also fighting for a place and in attack there is the usual debate over whether it will be Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain who will lead the frontline.

A Radamel Falcao inspired Atletico Madrid are the most likely candidates to challenge the top two this season and they face a struggling RCD Espanyol side who have just one point and are joint bottom with CA Osasuna, who are at home to Levante UD.

Malaga have also started well and although not playing at their best, held on for a 0-0 draw last weekend against an improving Athletic Bilbao side.

Malaga take on Real Betis Balompie and Athletic are away to Real Sociedad this weekend.

Unbeaten RCD Mallorca are arguably the biggest surprises so far and they travel to Getafe, while Valencia, who they beat last weekend, will be hoping for an upturn in fortunes against Real Zaragoza.

Elsewhere, Granada play RC Celta de Vigo and Real Valladolid entertain Rayo Vallecano de Madrid.

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