x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Barcelona hope to find rhythm without Xavi

The Primera Liga leaders Barcelona will be missing the "essence" of their team with playmaker Xavi sidelined with injury when they host Racing Santander tomorrow.

The Primera Liga leaders Barcelona will be missing the "essence" of their team with playmaker Xavi sidelined with injury when they host Racing Santander tomorrow. The 30-year-old picked up a muscle injury in last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Atletico Madrid and has been ruled out for 15 days after featuring in all 22 league games this season. Barca's first league defeat allowed Real Madrid to close to within two points at the top.

"Xavi is a very important player for us, he's the one who controls the rhythm of games," fellow midfielder Sergio Busquets said. "He is the essence of this Barcelona side. We hope we don't miss him too much." Xavi's setback was the latest in a string of recent muscle injuries for the squad who have seen Yaya Toure, Dmytro Chygrynskiy, Daniel Alves and Seydou Keita struck down. Pep Guardiola, the Barca coach, who has one eye on next week's return to Champions League action at VfB Stuttgart, will be cautious about rushing players back into the side, but does have Gerard Pique and Rafael Marquez back from suspension.

His main concern will be to get their trademark quick-passing game working effectively again without Xavi, after their below-par showing at the Calderon. Real's joy at seeing Barcelona brought to within touching distance last weekend was tempered by their 1-0 defeat away to Olympique Lyon in the Champions League. Manuel Pellegrini's side, who host Villarreal on Sunday will be looking to resume normal service in front of their own fans. "The game against Villarreal is very important against a rival that is getting stronger day-by-day," Real's right-back Alvaro Arbeloa said. "It's here where we need to try to recover our form."

* Reuters