Xavi says will quit Barca after Villarreal defeat, Madrid take Liga lead

By AFP   January 27, 2024 | 05:57 pm PT
Xavi says will quit Barca after Villarreal defeat, Madrid take Liga lead
Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez after the club's 5-3 defeat by Villarreal at La Liga on Jan. 27, 2024. Photo by AFP
Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said he will quit his role at the end of the season after the team's title defense was derailed in a remarkable 5-3 defeat by Villarreal on Saturday in La Liga.

After Real Madrid moved two points clear of Girona at the top of the league with a late 2-1 win at Las Palmas, the pressure was firmly on Xavi's defending champions in third.

In a see-saw match Gerard Moreno and Ilias Akhomach put Villarreal two goals ahead before Barcelona battled back.

Ilkay Gundogan and Pedri struck before Eric Bailly headed into his own net to give the hosts the lead.

However Goncalo Guedes fired home in the 84th minute before stoppage-time strikes from Alexander Sorloth and Jose Luis Morales left Barcelona 10 points adrift of rivals Madrid.

"From June 30 I will not continue as Barca coach ... as a Barca fan, I think the club needs a change of dynamic," Xavi told reporters.

"Thinking as a club man, I think the best thing is for me to go ... I will give my all in the four months that are left, I think we can have a good season and I hope the dynamic changes."

Alex Baena and Moreno had goals disallowed for Villarreal before the latter broke the deadlock, finishing well from Sorloth's cut-back.

As the players trudged in for half-time Barcelona were whistled by disgruntled supporters at their temporary home at the Olympic Stadium.

Barca conceded a foolish second goal after a bad Cancelo mistake allowed Akhomach to gallop in, round Inaki Pena and fire home. Then the Catalans fought back.

Gundogan finished superbly from the edge of the box after an hour, Pedri drove home eight minutes later to level and Bailly headed Gundogan's free kick into his own net.

However Barcelona's defense, a far cry from the watertight back-line which led them to the title last season, was pulled apart again.

Sorloth fed winger Guedes, who flashed a strike past Pena and into the far corner.

Barcelona were awarded a penalty in the 90th minute when Santi Comesana blocked Gundogan's cross with his elbow but the referee canceled it after a VAR review, leaving the hosts furious.

Xavi yelled into a television camera that the decision to revoke the penalty was "a disgrace".

Worse was to come, with Sorloth finishing from close range to put Villarreal ahead and Morales rubbed salt in the wound with a late fifth, with Barcelona in total disarray.

It was Villarreal's first win in five games in all competitions and their coach Marcelino's first ever against Barcelona in 21 matches.

"It's turning out to be a tough season and the fans deserved something like this," said Moreno.

'Motivated bench'

Earlier Aurelien Tchouameni's towering header earned Real Madrid a late victory at Las Palmas to send them top.

Las Palmas took the lead through Javier Munoz early in the second half but Madrid came back with Vinicius Junior leveling before substitute Tchouameni's winner, on his 24th birthday.

"I look at the bench and I have chances to change the dynamic," the Italian coach told reporters.

"It's a tool that we have, with such a motivated bench, they bring a lot when they come on."

Madrid were without leading goalscorer Jude Bellingham, suspended.

Promoted Las Palmas, eighth, have exceeded expectations under former Barcelona reserves coach Francisco Garcia Pimienta, and for large periods they gave Madrid as good as they got.

It was a tight clash between the division's best two defenses but the stalemate was broken early in the second half.

Munoz finished a neat counter-attack before Vinicius leveled after a fine Eduardo Camavinga pass.

Real coach Carlo Ancelotti, chasing a winner, sent on Turkish attacker Arda Guler for his La Liga debut and match-winner Tchouameni.

The French midfielder netted only his second goal for the club with a superb header from Toni Kroos' corner with six minutes remaining.

Madrid have been taking full advantage of dead ball situations, with this just the latest in a string of goals from corners they have scored this season.

"At set pieces we're very dangerous because we have very good takers and very good finishers," said Ancelotti.

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