BARCELONA: While club officials negotiate in Qatar to sign coach Xavi Hernández, Barcelona crosses Spain to play at Celta Vigo in a match it needs to win to regain its footing in the Spanish league.
If Barcelona has its way, Sergi Barjuan's last game as caretaker coach will be Saturday at Balaídos Stadium. A two-week international break for clubs follows, providing a window for a new coach to step in and let Barjuan return to Barcelona’s reserve team.
“I am going about this as if this was my team,” Barjuan said about his interim job. “If you show (the players) you have doubts ... the only way to keep everyone together is for me to be sincere, convince my players and help them improve. I can’t think about tomorrow.”
Barjuan has so far overseen a frustrating 1-1 home draw with Alavés in the domestic league and clutch 1-0 victory at Dynamo Kyiv that boosted Barcelona’s chances of advancing to the Champions League knockout rounds.
But Barcelona heads to Celta without any margin for error in Spain. The dominant club in the league for the past two decades sits in ninth place at nine points behind leader Real Sociedad.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta insists that “there are no transition seasons for Barcelona" and that winning titles is always the team's main aim, but it is becoming increasingly clear that a top-four finish is the most realistic objective for a financially depleted club that has lost Lionel Messi. And the team must improve to even reach that goal after only four wins in 11 league matches.
Reports in Barcelona’s sports press point to this week as being key for Barcelona to sign Xavi. The club has sent a delegation to Qatar where it is negotiating his release as the coach of Al-Sadd. His current employer, however, says that it has no desire to let him go in the middle of the season.
Laporta said last week following the firing of Ronald Koeman that his staff is considering other candidates for the job, without naming names.
Against Celta, Barcelona will likely be without injured defender Gerard Pique, but Barjuan will be able to count on recovered winger Ousmane Dembelé after he played his first minutes of the season at Kyiv.
At the top
Sociedad will aim to extend its 11-game unbeaten streak in the league on Sunday when it visits Osasuna. The Basque club has injury concerns about its top two scorers, however. Mikel Oyarzabal will miss Thursday’s Europa League match against Sturm Graz, while Alexander Isak is doubtful.
Sociedad is one point ahead of both Real Madrid and Sevilla, while Atlético Madrid enters the weekend in fourth place at three points adrift.
Madrid boasts the top two scorers in the league. Nine of Karim Benzema’s 13 goals this campaign have come in the league, while Vinícius Júnior is close behind with seven.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team will host sixth-place Rayo Vallecano on Saturday. Rayo, while owning the best home record in the league this season, has only won once on the road.
Sevilla plays at fifth-place Real Betis in a Seville derby on Sunday, while Atlético visits Valencia hoping to bounce back from its 2-0 defeat at Liverpool on Wednesday in the Champions League.