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 now travel to Sevilla on Saturday looking for their sixth successive win compared to only two victories for Madrid.
While his team-mates 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 October 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 but 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 backline 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 centre-half.
There is a stiff battle for places in Jose Mourinho’s Madrid side as they look to put their bad start to the campaign behind them.
They ended up playing Rayo Vallecano a day later after their match programmed for 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 Espanyol side who have just one point and are joint bottom with Osasuna, who are at home to Levante.
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 now take on Real Betis and Athletic are away to Real Sociedad.
Unbeaten Mallorca are arguably the biggest surprises so far and now travel to Getafe while Valencia, who they beat last weekend, will be hoping for an upturn in fortunes against Zaragoza.
Elsewhere Granada play Celta Vigo and Valladolid entertain Rayo Vallecano.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Valencia v Zaragoza 14.00, Malaga v Real Betis 14.00, Real Sociedad v Athletic Bilbao 1800, Sevilla v Barcelona 2000
Granada v Celta 1000, Valladolid v Rayo Vallecano 1400, Osasuna v Levante 1600, Real Madrid v Deportivo la Coruna 1750, Espanyol v Atletico Madrid 1930
Getafe v Mallorca 1930