Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez has admitted he was too quick to write off his side’s La Liga title chances as they host Atletico Madrid today knowing a win will hand them a fifth title in six years.
Xavi was among a number of players who claimed Barca’s chance had gone with a 2-2 draw at home to Getafe two weeks ago, but a remarkable end to the tightest title race in years in Spain in which the top three have failed to win in their past seven combined games has gifted the Catalans a second chance to be champions.
“We thought that we didn’t have a chance and perhaps we threw the towel in too soon,” the Spain international said. “We thought the league was lost, but these things happen in football and now we have everything in our favor to win. It is a very important title and we need to be united. It is a historic opportunity. It will be a spectacular finale.”
Victory would secure an eighth league title for Xavi, and a seventh for the departing Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes, but he insists the most decorated squad in Barcelona’s history still have the hunger to succeed.
“We have a great generation of players. This is a unique match, a unique opportunity which may never come round again,” he said. “It would be the icing on the cake for this generation to play in such a vital match.”
However, to win the league Barca will have to do something they have failed to in five previous meetings this season and beat Diego Simeone’s exceptionally well-organized Atletico side.
Barcelona have managed just two goals in those five encounters and have yet to go in front in any of them, which makes the first goal the key for Xavi.
“They are the best team defensively, they press high, they are solid and attack with variation,” he said. “One of the keys to the game is to go ahead, to make them have to come out more.”
Neymar is the only Barca player to have scored against Atletico in those five encounters and the club are hopeful that the Brazilian will be fit to feature at some point after more than a month out with a foot injury.
Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba have also returned to training, but the match is likely to come too soon for both Spain internationals.
Atletico are hopeful their own Brazilian-born star striker Diego Costa will be fit after he missed last weekend’s 1-1 draw at home to Malaga with a hamstring problem.
Costa is unlikely to be risked if there is a chance of him aggravating the injury, though, with the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid just a week away.
A La Liga and Champions League double would seal the best season in Atletico’s 111-year history, but defender Filipe Luis insists they are enjoying the experience rather than feeling under pressure.
“We aren’t under pressure, we have a great responsibility. We have overcome very difficult teams in the league and the Champions League, and we are in a very important moment in the history of the club,” Luis told the club’s Web site. “It hasn’t been easy, but we have got here with a lot of hard work and now we need to finish off the season in style. I think the game will be like the others against Barcelona this season... They have great quality and almost never lose the ball. They are playing at home and know they have the league in their hands, but it will be a game in which we will defend very strongly and look to counterattack, while they’ll want possession and control of the game.”
There are also issues to be resolved at the bottom of the table tomorrow as CA Osasuna, Real Valladolid and Granada look to avoid joining Real Betis Balompie in being relegated.
Osasuna must beat Betis to have any chance of staying up and hope Valladolid beat Granada.
Valladolid need to win and hope Osasuna do not to survive, while a point will be good enough for Granada to maintain their place in the top flight.
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