Clasico win to guarantee Barca title

Saturday, Mar 18, 2023

BARCELONA: Xavi Hernandez and his Barcelona side can take a decisive step towards winning La Liga on Sunday -- where a Clasico victory over Real Madrid would send them 12 points clear of the champions.

The Catalans have not won the Spanish title since Ernesto Valverde was at the helm in 2019 and expanding the gap on their bitter rivals in second would virtually clinch it.

Madrid won the first La Liga Clasico 3-1 in October but Xavi’s side have vastly improved since then.

The coach is desperate to win the league title to validate the team’s growth, while for the club it would represent a swift return on their outlay last summer.

Despite their financial crisis, Barcelona signed Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde, Raphinha and other players by selling off future television rights in a move some blasted for gambling with the club’s future.

Champions League group-stage elimination, followed by a Europa League knock-out by Manchester United, confirmed Barcelona still have a long way to go, but they have made significant progress.

Beating Real Madrid 3-1 in the Spanish Super Cup final in January in Saudi Arabia earned Xavi his first trophy as coach, and the performance was dominant. By contrast, when the teams met earlier March in the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg, Madrid had the better of the game, but Barcelona still scraped a 1-0 win.

How the Catalans approach this Clasico is a key issue for Xavi to decide. Fans at Camp Nou may not react well to a similarly defensive performance, and will expect Barcelona to take the initiative more. That will be significantly easier if midfield maestro Pedri is fit.

Without the Canary Islander, already essential for club and country at 20 years old, Barcelona seem virtually incapable of playing possession football.