WASHINGTON — Here in the capital city, Gerard Piqué was understandably diplomatic. Xavi was not.
European champions FC Barcelona arrived in the United States on Thursday ahead of their Herbalife World Football Challenge tilt against Manchester United at a sold-out FedEx Field on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes). The clash is a rematch of this year’s UEFA Champions League final in which Barcelona beat the Red Devils 3-1 to claim another European title.
Several months later, while showing off the UCL trophy here, midfielder and club symbol Xavi was not apologizing for the triumph.
“Piqué may say that we had luck [in the final], but I think we were better in the final,” Xavi said in a Thursday press conference. “Manchester is a great team. They have their qualities and great soccer players. But we dominated the game in every moment. … We held the ball and didn’t allow them to have it until the end. Manchester didn’t have possession or scoring chances and Barcelona had many. In that game, I believe we were very superior.”
While there is respect from Barcelona’s players for Manchester United, there is also a palpable confidence in the Barça system and players.
“In soccer you have two types of speeds: speed of execution and mental speed,” Xavi said when asked about the roots of his team’s playing style. “And at Barcelona, we work more on the mental speed. That‘s why many soccer players form Barcelona think fast. We work on this in training every day — on ball possession — and that’s why you see it on the field.”
They may be the best team in the world but rules are rules, even for Barcelona. Upon arriving in the nation's capital earlier this morning, the team bused it to the National Mall, hoping to kick the ball around for a light practice session. Security had none of it.
“Security told us we couldn’t run in a group of more than 10 or 15 persons,” Xavi said in the press conference. “So we came back to the hotel to train at the gym.”
Even with one less practice session, Barcelona won’t come into the Manchester United match unprepared. They already have three high-level friendly matches under their belts with draws against Hajduk Split and Brazilian side Internacional along with an even higher-profile victory against German giants Bayern Munich on Wednesday in the final of the Audi Cup, their first trophy of the season.
Despite all the accolades and silverware in recent years, Barcelona are still not satiated. They want the Herbalife World Football Challenge trophy, too, beginning with their first match against Manchester United.
“It’s a preparatory game and there will not be pressure like the Champions League final,” Xavi said. “But playing with Barcelona and against a team like Manchester United deserves maximum respect and we’re going to take it with the seriousness it respects. It’ll be a good spectacle.”