Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez has backed Ousmane Dembele after leaving the Frenchman and Raphinha out of his starting XI against Villarreal and seeing Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati impress in a 3-0 win.
Xavi was asked about the Frenchman ahead of Barcelona’s La Liga clash against Athletic at the Camp Nou on Sunday and and made it clear he thinks he has different qualities to his other forwards, as reported by Diario Sport.
“He has a unique talent. He has to try, even if he loses balls, I oblige him to take on defenders one-on-one in attacking areas of the field,” he said. “This player, he’s different from the others, he’s unique. He has to dribble, try things, cross.”
Xavi must now decide whether to bring Dembele back into his team or continue with Torres or Fati. Torres grabbed an assist against Villarreal, while Fati was on the scoresheet.
Dembele has featured 14 times for Barcelona but has just three goals and four assists so far for Xavi’s side. Raphinha is also lacking when it comes to end-product. The Brazilian has only one assist and one goal in the 2022-23 campaign.
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Will Ansu Fati Start?
There’s no doubt that Fati is pushing hard for a place in the starting XI. The teenager has been plagued by injury in recent seasons but has returned to fitness and seems to be slowly returning to his best form.
Fati has three goals and three assists in 10 La Liga matches but only two of those games have been as a starter. Xavi was asked about the forward but gave little away regarding whether he will make his starting XI.
“I don’t have starters or substitutes, and even less so with the calendar we have. We have 25 players who have a high level and compete with each other,” he added. “Everyone must feel important because everyone is useful. Ansu makes the difference.”
Ferran Growing In Confidence
Torres is another player who will be hoping for a start against Athletic. The January signing has struggled to impress so far this season and has been heavily criticized by supporters.
However, the Spain international has shown signs of improvement. Torres scored in the Clasico defeat and laid on Fati’s goal against Villarreal and is growing in confidence, according to his manager.
“With forwards it makes a difference when they score. Their confidence can drop when they’re not scoring. These last two matches have been good for Ferran,” he said. “He doesn’t stop working. We value him very highly, the work he does, the pressure he puts on, the chances he makes. We see him as a very high level-player whether he scores or not.”
Barcelona’s win over Villarreal put the team back to winning ways after disappointments against Inter and Madrid. Xavi will be eager to maintain that momentum against Athletic in a game that will see former boss Ernesto Valverde return to the Camp Nou.