Barcelona begin life without Ronald Koeman on Saturday against Deportivo Alaves as they try to close the gap on La Liga’s top four and regain confidence before a Champions League trip to Dynamo Kiev. Barca B coach Sergi Barjuan will be in charge at Camp Nou after Koeman’s dismissal was confirmed on Wednesday night after a 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano at Vallecas. Xavi Hernandez is reportedly close to being appointed as Koeman’s replacement, but the return of the club’s legendary midfielder is not expected before the weekend. There should be a buzz of excitement nonetheless, with the prospect of Xavi returning to the club where he joined as an 11-year-old and in 2015 left enough to stir the players and fans.
Barjuan oversaw training on Thursday afternoon, when Barcelona president Joan Laporta also addressed the team, explaining the decision to fire Koeman and stressing that the onus is now on them to incite a revival.
“We are all in the same boat here,” Sergio Busquets said on Wednesday night. “It’s everyone’s fault. For good and bad, we’re a team and we have to show it on the field.”
Two wins in seven league games reduced Barca to ninth place, six points behind Real Betis in fourth place. The increasingly real possibility of not qualifying for next season’s Champions League was probably a key factor in Koeman’s removal.
To finish in the top four will be the top priority for Koeman’s replacement, but the other immediate goal will be to reach the Champions League knockout stage this season, following successive 3-0 defeats against Bayern Munich and Benfica. the edge of an early exit.
To beat Dynamo 1-0 last week gave Barca hope, but they will need another victory in Kiev against the bottom team in Group B on Tuesday to have a realistic chance of overhauling Benfica.
Frenkie de Jong, Ronald Araujo and Pedri are all doubtful to oppose Alaves, who enjoyed an upswing in form after two consecutive victories over Cadiz and Elche. Ansu Fati could return after missing the defeat against Rayo, with Sergio Aguero continuing to advance.
Real Madrid’s goalless draw at home to Osasuna on Wednesday was overshadowed by Koeman’s retirement, but Carlo Ancelotti’s team missed the chance to improve two points at the top of the standings.
“You may think I’m crazy, but I liked the way we played,” Ancelotti said after being held by Osasuna.
“The first half, not so much, but in the second half, much better. I have nothing to criticize my players for.”
Instead, Madrid are three points behind Real Sociedad, who have lost just one of their first 11 games. They host Basque Competitors Athletics Club on Sunday.
Sevilla and Betis in third and fourth place tackle each other next weekend in a long-awaited Sevilla derby that should have an impact on the top of the table for once.
Before then, Sevilla are at home against Osasuna while Betis play away against Atletico Madrid, who are five points ahead after being held 2-2 by Levante on Thursday. Athletes take on Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League on Wednesday.
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