Xavi tries to repeat Guardiola’s feat against Real Madrid

Barcelona's head coach Xavi Hernandez gives instructions to his players during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Elche and Barcelona, at the Martinez Valero Stadium in Elche, Spain, Saturday, April 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
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MADRID (AP) — Xavi is on the verge of leading Barcelona back to the Copa del Rey final and repeating a feat last achieved when Pep Guardiola was in charge more than a decade ago.

Barcelona, the 2021 champion eliminated in the round of 16 last year, can return to the final with just a draw against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on Wednesday but a win would make it four straight triumphs over its rival for the first time since Guardiola won five in a row from 2008-10.

The Catalan club has never defeated Madrid four times in a row in the same season. It beat Madrid four times in 1982-83 but not in consecutive matches.

Barcelona lost 3-1 to Madrid in the first “clasico” of the season in the Spanish league, but since then it won 3-1 in the Spanish Super Cup final, 1-0 in the first leg of the Copa semifinal and 2-1 in the other league match.

“I think they are hurt and will be wanting to get revenge after losing the last three games,” Xavi said Tuesday. “But they always compete well.”

The last time Barcelona had won three in a row was in 2011-12. Madrid won five consecutive against its rival in a period from 2020-22. Guardiola’s winning run included a 6-2 rout at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium and a 5-0 triumph at the Camp Nou.

Barcelona’s most recent league win against Madrid left the club close to its first league title since 2018-19. It has a comfortable 12-point lead over Madrid with 11 matches remaining.

“The clasico is the most important match, for the fans, for the players,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “There is a very big rivalry and this is an important competition. We need to play a complete match because things didn’t go well in the last ones.”

After winning the Spanish Super Cup, advancing to the Copa final would give Xavi a chance to lead Barcelona to its second title of the season. It would come after a gloomy period in which it struggled amid a financial crisis that led to the departure of Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain.

Ancelotti is also hoping to keep alive Madrid’s chances of winning another trophy in addition to the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA’s Club World Cup. Madrid is also alive in the Champions League, where it faces Chelsea in the quarterfinals.

Madrid hasn’t won the Copa since 2014, when it beat Barcelona the last time it made it to the final. Barcelona is the competition’s most successful club with 31 trophies. Its triumph two years ago marked the team’s last title with Messi in the squad.

Barcelona has succeeded in the recent “clasicos” under Xavi with a formation that includes four midfielders and Gavi in a more advanced position. The coach could also opt to use three forwards, with Ansu Fati or Ferran Torres playing up front along with Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski. Franck Kessié, who scored the late winner in the last league “clasico,” would drop from the lineup in that scenario.

Xavi still won’t be able to count on four important players because of injuries — Ousmane Dembélé, Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Andreas Christensen.

Ancelotti will have all of his regular starters available with the exception of injured left back Ferland Mendy.

Karim Benzema is coming off a hat trick in the team’s 6-0 rout of Valladolid in the Spanish league, and the French striker is among the Madrid veterans who are ending their contracts this season and could be making their last appearance in the “clasico,” along with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets, the player with a record of 47 appearances in the “clasico,” is in a similar situation as his contract with the Catalan club also expires this season.