Barcelona visit Celta with club pressing to sign Xavi

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – As club officials negotiate in Qatar to sign coach Xavi Hernández, Barcelona cross Spain to play Celta Vigo in a game they need to win to regain a foothold in the Spanish league.

If Barcelona are successful, Sergi Barjuan’s last game as interim manager will be on Saturday at the Balaídos Stadium. A two-week international break for clubs ensues, providing a window for a new manager to step in and allow Barjuan to return to Barcelona’s reserve squad.

“I handle it like it’s my team,” Barjuan said of his acting job. “If you show (the players) that you have doubts… the only way to keep everyone together is for me to be sincere, to convince my players and to help them improve. I can’t think of tomorrow.

Barjuan has so far overseen a frustrating 1-1 home draw with Alavés in the domestic league and claimed the 1-0 victory over Dynamo Kyiv. it increased Barcelona’s chances of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League.

But Barcelona are heading towards Celta with no margin for error in Spain. The dominant club in the league over the past two decades sit in ninth place, nine points behind leaders Real Sociedad.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta insists that “there are no transitional seasons for Barcelona” and that winning titles is still the main goal of the team, but it is increasingly becoming clearer than a top-four ranking is the most realistic goal for a financially exhausted club that has lost Lionel Messi. And the team needs to improve to reach that goal after just four wins in 11 league games.

Barcelona sports press reports indicate this week is key for Barcelona to sign Xavi. The club sent a delegation in Qatar where he is negotiating his release as coach of Al-Sadd. His current employer, however, says he has no desire to let him go in high season.

Laporta said last week after Ronald Koeman was sacked that its staff consider other candidates for the post, without naming names.

Against Celta, Barcelona will again be without winger Ousmane Dembelé, who injured his left thigh after playing his first minutes of the season as a substitute in Kiev.

AT THE TOP

Sociedad will aim to extend their 11-game unbeaten streak in the league on Sunday when they visit Osasuna. The Basque club, however, has concerns about the injuries of its two top scorers. Mikel Oyarzabal will miss Thursday’s Europa League game against Sturm Graz, while Alexander Isak is uncertain.

Sociedad are one point ahead of Real Madrid and Sevilla, while Atlético Madrid approach the weekend in fourth place, three points behind.

Madrid have the two top scorers in the league. Nine of Karim Benzema’s 13 goals this season have been scored in the league, while Vinícius Júnior follows closely behind with seven.

Carlo Ancelotti’s team will host sixth-placed Rayo Vallecano on Saturday. Rayo, while holding the league’s best home record this season, has only won once on the road.

Sevilla play fifth-placed Real Betis in a Sevilla derby on Sunday, while Atlético travel to Valencia hoping to bounce back from their 2-0 loss to Liverpool on Wednesday in the Champions League.

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