BARCELONA (Reuters) – After a nerve-wracking last World Cup qualifier for Spain as they booked their place at next year’s finals by beating Sweden 1-0, LaLiga returns this weekend with all eyes on Barcelona.
New manager Xavi Hernandez will take charge of the team in the Catalonia derby against Espanyol on Saturday and three days later Barca host Benfica in a game that could secure their place in the Champions League last 16.
Barca languish ninth in LaLiga, 11 points adrift of leaders Real Sociedad and 10 behind arch-rivals Real Madrid, and Xavi has the task of masterminding their first victory in four league matches.
The arrival of Xavi, one Barcelona’s greatest midfielders in his playing days, and the return of Brazilian right back Dani Alves have breathed new life into the club which their fans hope will kickstart their campaign.
“I’m completely aware of the challenge that I have in front of me and the pressure that being Barcelona manager holds, but I’m doing it with eagerness, hope and desire,” Xavi said.
“It’s not about only winning. It’s winning with style, playing well, dominating. This is Barcelona’s DNA. We have to bring it back.”
Real Madrid travel to Granada on Sunday looking to keep up the pressure on surprise leaders Sociedad ahead of a Champions League trip to Sheriff Tiraspol, the Moldovan side who pulled off a shock victory in the Spanish capital in September.
Vinicius Jr. has shone for Real Madrid this season and in the absence of the injured Neymar, the 21-year-old started for Brazil in the 0-0 draw with Argentina on Wednesday and carried his sparkling club form on to the international stage.
Sociedad host Valencia on Sunday and Sevilla, level on points with Real Madrid, entertain Alaves on Saturday bidding to extend an unbeaten league run stretching back nearly two months.
Fourth-placed Atletico Madrid, who squandered a two-goal lead in stoppage time to draw 3-3 with Valencia last time out, host Osasuna on Saturday.
Reporting by Fernando Kallas, editing by Ed Osmond