Xavi makes long-awaited return to Santiago Bernabeu


FC Barcelona coach Xavi enjoyed some special nights at Real Madrid’s stadium as a player but now he’s aiming to send a message to his club’s eternal rivals from the dugout.

Written by Alejandro Fernandez.

When Xavi Hernández and FC Barcelona arrive at the Santiago Bernabéu on Sunday for ElClasico (9pm CET), they come in hope of disrupting their eternal rivals’ impressive title challenge and of sending a clear message, with their pride on the line.

FC Barcelona want to give Los Blancos a clear demonstration that they are on the way back to the top, with the Xavi era taking a promising shape, after the pain of watching Real Madrid and then Atlético de Madrid lift the last two La Liga Santander titles.

El Clasico is the biggest game in club football and Xavi, as an emblem for FC Barcelona during his glorious years at the club and now once again as the coach, knows how important the clash is to the supporters. This is the first time he will return to the Bernabéu since 2014 and, after a narrow extra-time defeat by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup in January, this is an opportunity to prove how the Catalan giants have progressed in the three months since.

FC Barcelona have moved impressively from ninth in LaLiga Santander up to third after Xavi’s appointment and are looking for a win to keep up their pursuit of second place Sevilla FC, five points ahead of them having played a game more. Beyond the implications for the table, though, the passionate rivalry between the sides is reason enough to give everything.

As a player, Xavi understood this and enjoyed himself in the Spanish capital with key contributions in some huge FC Barcelona away performances against Real Madrid. It was at the Bernabéu that he laid on four assists in the May 2009 6-2 rout of the hosts, which all but sealed FC Barcelona’s LaLiga Santander victory and set the team on the path to an unforgettable treble under Pep Guardiola. From a perfectly placed free-kick assist for Carles Puyol to a brilliant threaded pass for Thierry Henry, FC Barcelona’s No 6 put on an exhibition in midfield in one of the all-time great El Clasico performances. “It was spectacular,” said Xavi. “That superiority in the Bernabéu, I have never felt like that in my life.”

Xavi’s overall record at the Bernabéu was strong, with eight victories, six draws and seven defeats across all competitions. The 2-0 Champions League semi-final first leg victory in April 2011 was also memorable, and he laid on both assists a year earlier at the Bernabéu in another triumph by the same scoreline in LaLiga Santander. FC Barcelona’s coach captained the team to a thrilling 4-3 league win in Madrid in March 2014, although perhaps the game most relevant to his return next weekend was the 2-1 win in April 2004.

FC Barcelona snatched victory thanks to Xavi’s acrobatic goal from Ronaldinho’s genius scooped assist and it stopped Real Madrid’s La Liga Santander hopes in their tracks, with Valencia CF going on to lift the title. It also marked the start of a period of strong results for Barça at the Bernabéu, a turning point in the club’s history. Around 4,000 FC Barcelona fans greeted their returning heroes at the city’s airport in celebration, understanding the significance of the victory.

With Xavi out of the picture, Real Madrid have struck back in recent years and triumphed at home against FC Barcelona in each of the last two campaigns, with an impressive run of five consecutive wins over their rivals in all competitions. Carlo Ancelotti’s side triumphed 2-1 at the Camp Nou in October against Ronald Koeman’s Barça, with the hosts parting company from the Dutch coach under a week later.

FC Barcelona now hope Xavi’s Bernabéu comeback can herald another changing of the tide in that respect, with the coach hoping to bring memories flooding back of the times he ruled the roost, but this time doing it from the dugout.


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