Xavi on Dembele return: ‘Few better than him’

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez has said there are few forwards better than Ousmane Dembele as the Frenchman prepares to return to action after a lengthy injury layoff.

Dembele, 25, was expected to be out for up to six weeks after injuring his thigh against Girona in January but spent three months on the sidelines.

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However, the winger returned to training earlier this month and has been included in the squad to face Real Betis this weekend as Barca close in on a first LaLiga title since 2019.

“We have missed Ousmane,” Xavi said in a news conference on Friday. “He is the best player we have in one-on-one situations. There are few better than him.

“His recovery has taken longer [than expected] but he is back and he is happy. We will see if he can start on Saturday or come on. It’s great news to have him available.”

Without Dembele, Barca have been eliminated from the Europa League and the Copa del Rey, although they have built an 11-point lead at the top of the table with just seven games to go.

Dembele, who has scored eight goals and provided seven assists this season, can now play his part as Barca look to follow up Spanish Super Cup success with the LaLiga title.

Despite boasting a commanding lead over Real Madrid in second place, Xaxi was asked if he feels it is taking a long time for Barca to get over the line after they lost 2-1 to Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday.

“What felt like an eternity was last year, fighting to get second place,” Xavi said. “This season is not dragging at all; it makes me happy. I don’t get [the media] sometimes.

“I am enjoying myself in LaLiga this season. I think we are competing well. Who would not have taken this position at the start of the year? I am having a great time. Last season’s league campaign dragged, not this one.

“It doesn’t surprise me. I said it on the day of my presentation, this is the most difficult club in the world. Winning 1-0 is not enough here. We have won 1-0 a lot this season playing well, but it’s not enough.

“You have to win and convince with your performances. We give credit to what we are doing internally, but we now have to win this league for it to be a good season.”

As well as Dembele, Andreas Christensen, who has not played since March, is also in the squad to face Betis following Pedri and Frenkie de Jong‘s returns to action last weekend.

Lamine Yamal, 15, is once again included in the squad, too, with Sergi Roberto the only player missing through injury.

Betis, meanwhile, arrive at Camp Nou on the back of just one win in their last five games, a run of form which has seen them slip to sixth, six points back from the fourth and final qualifying spot for the Champions League.

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