Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez hurled praise at teenage defender Alejandro Balde after seeing his side restore their 9-point lead at the top of La Liga with a 1-0 win over Athletic at San Mames.
Xavi once again started 19-year-old Balde at left-back, ahead of more experienced options such as Jordi Alba and Marcos Alonso, and saw his team keep yet another clean sheet against Ernesto Valverde’s side.
The Barcelona manager praised Balde for his performance after the match and said the teenager was the breakout star of the 2022-23 season in the Spanish top flight, as reported by Mundo Deportivo.
“The ceiling is to continue playing for Barça. He is in the national team, he has already played in a World Cup, sensational in defense and attack,” he said. “I hope he continues like this, he is the revelation of the season, the surprise. He can be whatever he wants.”
Barcelona now head into a Clasico against Real Madrid with a healthy lead at the top of the table. Victory at the Camp Nou over Los Blancos will extend that lead even further and bring the title into sight for Xavi and his men.
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Balde’s Breakout Season
Balde has made 22 appearances in La Liga so far this season for Barcelona, contributing four assists and appears to have made the left-back slot his own under Xavi. The Barcelona coach has certainly praised the teenager on a regular basis this season for his performances.
Xavi insisted it was a “joy to watch” Balde play after seeing him star against Real Betis, according to Marca in January 2023, and admitted back in September that he was amazed at the quality the defender had shown considering his young age.
Former Barcelona director Ramon Planes has also revealed that Balde was set to leave the club on loan last summer until Xavi intervened and made it clear he wanted to give the youngster a chance to shine at the Camp Nou.
Balde’s emergence has seen veteran Alba reduced to a bit-part role at the Camp Nou. The 33-year-old has started just 10 of Barca’s 25 league matches and Balde told reporters in February he feels he’s a more “explosive” player than the veteran.
Barcelona Set New Defensive Record
Barcelona’s clean sheet against Athletic saw the Catalans set a new defensive record in La Liga. Xavi’s side have still only conceded eight goals in the Spanish top flight after 25 games of the campaign.
The record is a new milestone at this stage of the season, beating previous landmarks set by Atletico Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna, as shown by Opta.
Barcelona’s victory was also the ninth time the team have won 1-0 in La Liga this season. Yet the Catalans did need the help of the Video Assistant Referee system to preserve their clean sheet.
Athletic striker Inaki Williams did have the ball in the back of the net late on for the hosts at San Mames but saw his effort ruled out for a handball in the build-up by Iker Munian.
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