Barcelona head coach Xavi labelled Ansu Fati a "special player" after handing the 19-year-old his first league appearance since November in a 2-1 win over Real Mallorca.

Fati entered the fray as a 75th-minute substitute as the Blaugrana recorded a crucial win in their bid to secure Champions League qualification, as goals from Memphis Depay and Sergio Busquets moved Barca into second place in LaLiga, nine points clear of fifth-placed Real Betis.

Fati has recorded 14 goals and one assist in 37 appearances in LaLiga since making his Barca debut in 2019, but he has suffered an injury-plagued campaign and went over five months without making a league appearance prior to his comeback.

Speaking after the youngster's return to the pitch, Xavi lauded Fati's ability and said it was a "shame" the Catalan giants had been without him for the majority of the season.

"He is very happy to be with the group," Xavi said. "Little by little, he needs competition rhythm. Training is not the same as participating in a match and he needs time. 

"Ansu is a special player. You see him in training. He has made an effort to be with us.

"I have tried him as a number nine [in this match] so that he was close to the area, and because he is not yet ready to do many one-on-ones. 

"It's a shame that we haven't had him these months because I'm sure he would have helped us. I'm very happy for him."

Although Fati's 15-minute cameo in Barcelona's fifth win in seven LaLiga games (two defeats) was welcome news, the Blaugrana lost defender Gerard Pique to injury in the first-half, and Xavi said his former team-mate had been playing through the pain barrier to help Barca's push for a top-four finish.

"Today he told me that he was very well, but in the 10th minute he felt discomfort again. He is making a super effort for the team, he is super involved but the pain is there," Xavi added.

"In the 25th minute, he told me that he couldn't give any more and it was difficult for him to run. 

"Let's see how it is this week. Pique is very important because of his ball output, his size, his set piece [threat] and the leadership he gives to the group."

Barcelona face top-four rivals Real Betis in their next league outing on Saturday, and could mathematically confirm Champions League qualification with a win in that contest if Betis fail to win at Getafe on Monday.

Xavi said Barcelona's 2-1 win over Real Mallorca gives them "peace of mind" in their hunt for Champions League qualification, and hailed Memphis Depay's attitude after he opened the scoring with a stunning volley.

Having lost three consecutive matches at Camp Nou for just the second time in their illustrious history, the Blaugrana bounced back through excellent goals from Depay and Sergio Busquets, holding on for the win after Antonio Raillo pulled a goal back late on.

The Catalan giants have now won five of their last seven games in LaLiga to open up a nine-point lead over fifth-placed Real Betis in the race for Champions League football, moving up to second in the table.

Although Xavi insisted his team should have won the match more comfortably, he was pleased after picking up a crucial win in their quest to wrap up a top-four finish.

"It was a 3-0 match and we have to finish more satisfied, we have committed an unnecessary foul and they have scored the goal. It is a game to win [more] comfortably," he said after the victory.

"[But] the three points give us peace of mind. Now we have a league of five teams to enter the Champions League, which we have to win."

Depay's fantastic volleyed opener represented his 11th goal of the season in LaLiga – more than any other Barcelona player, and while Xavi was not willing to discuss whether the attacker had a future at Camp Nou, he insisted the 28-year-old deserved to play after showing great application in training.

"There is no talk of the future. Memphis has played because he trains very well, and maybe because another player had lowered his arms," he added. "We had worked on the play for the first goal.

"We want players with his attitude. I'm happy for him because it's possible that we were unfair at times with him. But if he trains like this, he has to participate."

Depay's Netherlands team-mate Frenkie de Jong, meanwhile, played the full 90 minutes after reacting angrily to being substituted in Barca's defeat to Rayo Vallecano last time out.

But the 24-year-old, who has been linked with a move away from Catalonia in recent weeks, said he has had positive discussions with Xavi since that incident and hopes Barcelona can compete with newly-crowned champions Real Madrid for the league title next term.

"The conversation with Xavi went well," De Jong said. "I have confidence in myself and the coach has told me that he also has confidence in me. I don't think too much is demanded of me, the pressure is always good and it's never too much.

"We were better and we deserved the victory. We played quite well, although we can always improve a lot. But it was important to win after defeats and we are happy with that.

"We are second, the first objective is to qualify for the Champions League, and then to be second to play in the [Spanish] Super Cup.

"It is frustrating, not fighting for the league, but we have not been good this year and that is why we have not been able to compete with them [Madrid]. We hope to do so next year."

Barcelona took another big step towards Champions League qualification as Memphis Depay and Sergio Busquets scored superb goals in a 2-1 LaLiga win over Real Mallorca.

Looking to avoid a fourth consecutive home defeat, the Blaugrana calmed a nervous Camp Nou crowd through Depay's excellent first-half volley on Sunday.

Busquets then fired a low effort beyond Sergio Rico and the Catalan giants held on for the win despite Antonio Raillo's 79th minute goal.

After being forced to watch rivals Real Madrid win the title on Saturday, Xavi's side at least look likely to join them in next season's Champions League after moving back into second place.

Rico was forced into an excellent save after five minutes, diving to his right to turn away Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's goal-bound header, before Fer Nino squandered a fantastic opportunity for the visitors when firing over at the back post from close range.

Ronald Araujo saw a powerful 22nd-minute header ruled out for offside, but the Blaugrana did take the lead three minutes later when Depay expertly volleyed into the bottom-left corner after controlling Jordi Alba's ball over the top.

The hosts lost Gerard Pique to injury before the break, but doubled their advantage after 54 minutes when Busquets drilled a left-footed effort into the bottom-right corner after striding onto a loose ball on the edge of the area.

Depay went close to another brilliant goal when he shot narrowly wide from range after dancing through the visiting midfield, before Barca had another goal ruled out by VAR after Ferran Torres's shot deflected in off Aubameyang in an offside position.

Xavi handed Ansu Fati his first appearance since November from the bench, as the hosts clung on for a vital win despite Raillo prodding home from Salva Sevilla's cross. 

What does it mean? Blaugrana end Camp Nou misery 

Barcelona had seen much of the positivity surrounding the club dissipate after suffering three consecutive home defeats for just the second time in their history, but bounced back to secure three precious points.

In doing so, Xavi's side stretched their lead over fifth-placed Real Betis - who have a game in hand - to nine points with four matches to play, taking a huge step towards sealing a Champions League spot.

Alba assumes creative role again

Having teed up Depay's goal, Alba has recorded nine assists in La Liga this season, the best such record managed by a defender in the competition since Real Madrid's Marcelo registered 10 in 2016-17.

Alba's return also represents the best managed by a Barca defender since Dani Alves teed up 11 goals in the 2011-12 campaign.

Depay shows his worth

Although Barcelona's push for Champions League football has seen January arrivals Aubameyang and Torres star in the attacking positions, Depay provided a reminder of his quality by striking a terrific opener.

The Dutchman has now scored 11 goals in LaLiga this season, more than any other Blaugrana player.

What's next? 

Barcelona's next outing sees them travel to Betis for a huge contest on Saturday, while Mallorca host fellow strugglers Granada on the same day.

Ansu Fati will be available for selection for Barcelona when they play Real Mallorca at the Camp Nou on Sunday.

Barca sit third in LaLiga, a point behind second-placed Sevilla – who have played a game more – and 18 adrift of newly crowned champions Real Madrid.

Fati has not featured for the Blaugrana since sustaining a hamstring injury in January, but head coach Xavi revealed on Saturday that the 19-year-old could return this weekend.

"We will give the squad list and Ansu will be there," he told reporters at a pre-match news conference.

"He feels very comfortable and is making efforts to return. He will play at least a few minutes. He is happy, he is smiling, a special player.

"We take great care of him, we know he is a special player. For now the feelings are very good, peaks of speed, physically very good."

The club then confirmed Fati's presence in the squad on Sunday via their Twitter page.

Barca go into the match having lost three successive home games in all competitions for just the second time in history, last doing so under Louis van Gaal between the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons.

Defeat last time out against Rayo Vallecano, who became the first promoted team to complete a LaLiga double over Barca since Salamanca in 1997-98, left Xavi's side in third, and they will look to bounce back when they welcome Mallorca to Camp Nou.

Barcelona coach Xavi expressed his gratitude for the support from former boss Ronald Koeman as he implored the Blaugrana to respond against Real Mallorca.

Xavi's side sit third in LaLiga, a point behind second-placed Sevilla – who have played a game more – and 15 behind runaway leaders Real Madrid.

However, Barca have fallen to three straight home defeats in all competitions for just the second time in their history, last doing so under Louis van Gaal between the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons.

That torrid run culminated in their elimination from the Europa League and placed slight doubt over Champions League qualification, though they are six points ahead of fifth-placed Real Betis.

Koeman suggested on Thursday that Xavi deserves more support than he received when at Barca, with the Spaniard lifting the Blaugrana from ninth to third following the Dutchman's dismissal last October.

While Xavi welcomed the support of a fellow coach and revealed his admiration for Koeman, the 42-year-old urged Barca to improve against Mallorca on Sunday.

"I'm not going to change the feelings that Ronald has. I wasn't there and I'm not going to give my opinion," he told reporters at a pre-match news conference on Saturday.

"I have tremendous respect and admiration for him. Everyone has to support Barca. I have the utmost respect for Ronald for the work and effort he made. Thank him, nothing more.

"We are here and I do feel the support of the club and of Barcelona in general. It seemed that we had hit the key, but suddenly there were three defeats in a row.

"Now we have to see to the coach, the players, show our faces."

Barca have never lost four home games in a row in their history, and Xavi reiterated his calls for his side to respond against Mallorca, who have lost their last eight league meetings with the Blaugrana.

"It is time to take a step forward," he added. "You have to make more of a team than ever and bring out your personality. It's not because of a bad attitude.

"It's because of situations that have weighed us down. We have to improve. It's time to push it forward and bring out the personality. I have a winning team and that's the reality.

"You have to set challenges. Those who have the most desire will enter the Champions League. This is a club made to win titles. The second is the minimum required.

"On Monday we were angry, on Tuesday less and on Wednesday we were already working.

"It is a reality and you have to prepare yourself for that. You have to have faith to achieve the minimum objective."

Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid will be crowned champions if they avoid defeat against Espanyol the day before Barca are in action.

"If they are champions, we will congratulate them," he said of Madrid.

"They have been better because this is a long competition and usually the one who deserves it wins. We will congratulate them and next year we will compete better."

Ansu Fati will feature for Barcelona against Real Mallorca for the first time in three months after sustaining a hamstring injury, Blaugrana coach Xavi confirmed.

Barca have lost their last three home games in all competitions for just the second time in history, last doing so under Louis van Gaal between the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons.

Defeat against Rayo Vallecano, who became the first promoted team to complete a LaLiga double over Barca since Salamanca in 1997-98, left Xavi's side in third – 15 points behind leaders Real Madrid.

While Madrid need just a point against Espanyol on Saturday to secure the title, Barca will be boosted by the return of Fati against Mallorca on Sunday.

The 19-year-old has suffered an injury-hit campaign, last featuring in January – and not at all in LaLiga since November – managing just five league appearances this season for his 213 minutes of action.

"We will give the squad list and Ansu will be there," Xavi told reporters at a pre-match news conference. 

"He feels very comfortable and is making efforts to return. He will play at least a few minutes. He is happy, he is smiling, a special player.

"We take great care of him, we know he is a special player. For now the feelings are very good, peaks of speed, physically very good."

Fati will return to a Barca side that has scored with only one of the last 46 shots they have attempted in LaLiga, and with one of their last 57 at Camp Nou in the competition.

However, Xavi insists his side need to collectively respond instead of relying on the teenager to make things happen when he features.

"The focus has to be on the team. I understand football as a collective game. If it's only one player, when he fails the team doesn't shoot," he added.

"Everyone has to shoot. Ansu is a different player, he has to be very important from now on.

"But there is no specific focus on him or anyone, I have never understood it that way."

Barca will be without midfielder Pedri as the talented youngster continues to recover from a hamstring injury sustained against Eintracht Frankfurt earlier in April.

The Blaugrana have won eight of 10 LaLiga games that Pedri has started, in comparison to just 10 victories in 23 league games without the Spain international in the starting line-up this season.

Xavi provided a positive update on Pedri as he suggested he may be without centre-back Gerard Pique against Mallorca.

"Pedri is training separately and has a good feeling," he added. "Pique has a tendon problem. We'll see tomorrow, today he was more sore.

"Nico [Gonzalez] broke his finger in a collision with Ansu. A shame because we don't have plenty of midfielders, but that's football."

One midfielder that could leave his mark, though, is the out of favour Frenkie de Jong, who was seemingly unhappy after his substitution in Barca's last game.

"We had a very good face-to-face talk," Xavi said of De Jong. 

"It's obvious that this change frustrated him, but I have to look out for the team. He's had excellent games, but he has to be constant.

"He's capable and is here to make a difference. He's a very important player for the present and for the future".

Jan Oblak admitted Atletico Madrid must improve on their performance in defeat to Real Mallorca when they host Manchester City in the Champions League. 

Atletico face City in the second leg of their quarter-final at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday, trailing 1-0 from the first game in Manchester. 

They surprisingly lost by the same scoreline to relegation-threatened Mallorca at the Visit Mallorca Estadi on Saturday, with Vedat Muriqi's penalty settling a contest low on quality. 

LaLiga's reigning champions saw their six-game top-flight winning streak end abruptly but remain fourth – three points behind Sevilla in second. 

Oblak was unhappy with the decision to award the penalty after Reinildo was judged to have fouled Pablo Maffeo but conceded the Rojiblancos did not play well enough to win. 

"Things didn't work out today," the Slovenian goalkeeper said after the game. "Mallorca played a good defensive game. It was a difficult game. 

"In the end, with a dry pitch, with sun, with everything, it's complicated. I'm not looking for excuses. We have to do more and better. Today was not enough for the three points. 

 

"We didn't have [the Champions League game] in mind, but I'm sure the first leg has taken its toll. We've been a bit tired, heavy... We haven't played the game we had to play. Next it's City and we have to do much better to win on Wednesday. 

"Reinildo has also told me that it wasn't [a penalty]. I saw it from behind and it didn't seem like it to me. But if the VAR people don't want to warn him, nothing can be done. I've told the referee that it's not a penalty. Football is a contact sport and it can happen that after clearing the ball you touch someone. 

"The intensity wasn't at the level that it had to be for the whole team. In the end, you lose a game that you didn't have to lose. You can't let the other team play with more enthusiasm. You have to go in wanting to win and take the three points." 

Head coach Diego Simeone also dismissed the notion that his team had one eye on City. 

"We started the game well, but it was costing us," he told reporters. "We were elaborate, generated danger, but defensively they were very good. The penalty made us look to force a draw, but it wasn't to be. 

"It's easy to blame a lack of concentration, but we couldn't break their orderly and correct defense." 

Atletico Madrid missed the chance to go joint-second in LaLiga after they were beaten 1-0 by relegation-threatened Real Mallorca. 

Vedat Muriqi's penalty settled a scrappy contest at the Visit Mallorca Estadi, where Diego Simeone's side saw their six-match winning streak come to an end. 

The reigning champions remain fourth in the table – three points behind second-place Sevilla – but have now won just twice in their last 11 away league meetings with Mallorca. 

Meanwhile, Javier Aguirre's side climbed out the relegation zone after ending a run of seven straight defeats. 

Seeking a seventh straight league win and aiming to bounce back from their midweek Champions League defeat by Manchester City, Atletico dominated large periods of a stop-start first half. 

Marcos Llorente and Antoine Griezmann were narrowly off target but despite enjoying over two-thirds of the possession, the visitors were unable to turn their superiority into the opening goal of the contest. 

Mallorca went close to breaking the deadlock within a minute of the restart. Brian Olivan, who last found the net on the opening day of this season, drew a smart save out of Jan Oblak with his 20-yard volley. 

The hosts eventually opened the scoring midway through the second half, Muriqi confidently firing home from the penalty spot after Reinildo felled Pablo Maffeo in the box. 

While Atletico continued to enjoy superiority in possession, they were unable to generate a threat to truly trouble Mallorca, who held on to complete only a fourth league double over Los Rojiblancos despite the loss of Iddrisu Baba to a head injury late on. 

Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema were the difference once again as Real Madrid beat Real Mallorca 3-0 on Monday to take full advantage of Sevilla's latest slip-up and go 10 points clear at the top of LaLiga.

Carlo Ancelotti's men were aiming for a fourth league win in a row and, although they rode their luck at times, Los Blancos got the job done to see their points cushion at the summit reach double figures.

Mallorca arguably created the better chances in the first half, though Vinicius was more ruthless soon after the restart, even if there was a hint of controversy around it.

It set Madrid on their way and Benzema put the game beyond Mallorca from the spot before nodding in his second of the day late on, though Ancelotti will be worried that he failed to complete the game.

Amid a busy start, Madrid were fortunate to not fall behind in the 11th minute, as Vedat Muriqi steered a close-range volley off target from Brian Olivan's excellent cross.

They got even luckier just past the half-hour mark when Pablo Maffeo scuffed wide from 10 yards with only Thibaut Courtois to beat.

Predictably, Mallorca were made to pay.

Referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez refused to penalise Federico Valverde for tripping Iddrisu Baba just outside the hosts' box, and Benzema fed Vinicius into the area for a straightforward finish.

Mallorca's response was lacking and Madrid finished them off 13 minutes from time, Benzema slotting home a penalty after Vinicius was nudged over while trying to reach a pass from his partner.

Benzema added another with a well-placed header from a Marcelo cross, but he was then withdrawn with an apparent calf strain in what could be a major blow ahead of the Clasico.

Eder Militao will miss Real Madrid's LaLiga's trip to Real Mallorca on Monday.

Madrid revealed on the morning of the game that Militao will play no part when Los Blancos go in search of a fifth consecutive win in all competitions.

The LaLiga leaders did not specify why the Brazil centre-back will not feature in the match.

"Militao is not available for Real Madrid's LaLiga matchday 28 game this evening at the Visit Mallorca Stadium," a Madrid statement said.

Carlo Ancelotti's side are riding on the crest of a wave after beating Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Madrid are seven points clear of Sevilla at the top of LaLiga ahead of their game in hand at Mallorca.

Real Madrid will face Barcelona's conquerors Athletic Bilbao in the pick of the Copa del Rey quarter-final ties.

The one-legged fixture at San Mames is a repeat of last week's Supercopa de Espana final, which Madrid won 2-0 to secure the first silverware of Carlo Ancelotti's second spell.

Madrid will now look to take advantage of record 31-time winners Barca's last-16 exit to Athletic, with Iker Muniain's extra-time penalty eliminating the holders in a 3-2 defeat. 

Friday's draw, which was conducted by Spain legend David Villa, also pitted LaLiga high-flyers Real Sociedad and Real Betis.

Betis are third in the Spanish top flight after enjoying a sensational campaign thus far, while Sociedad are fifth and themselves in contention for a Champions League spot.

Valencia will take on Cadiz, meanwhile, and Rayo Vallecano are up against Real Mallorca in the other all-LaLiga quarter-final fixture.

All four ties will take place in two weeks' time, with the first leg of the semi-finals scheduled for the following week. 

Copa del Rey quarter-final draw in full:

Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid
Real Sociedad v Real Betis
Valencia v Cadiz
Rayo Vallecano v Real Mallorca

Xavi has suggested Luuk de Jong could stay at Barcelona beyond the January transfer window after firing his side to "three golden points" against Real Mallorca. 

De Jong's loan from Sevilla was expected to be terminated this month ahead of the forward joining fellow LaLiga side Cadiz for the remainder of the season.

However, the Netherlands international was required against Mallorca on Barca's return to action on Sunday due to a spate of COVID-19 cases in the Blaugrana camp.

After twice hitting the woodwork, De Jong headed in his second league goal of the campaign in the 44th minute to seal a 1-0 victory for Barca in Palma.

In doing so, he became the first Barca player other than Lionel Messi to hit the frame of the goal twice in a single LaLiga game since August 2019.

And with Xavi still waiting on other players to return to fitness, the recently appointed coach hinted De Jong may yet remain at Camp Nou for the rest of 2021-22.

"He is an example of a professional," Xavi said at his post-match news conference. "It is said that he can go out, but he works, he sacrifices himself. He is a hell of a professional. 

"I am happy with him. Of course I am contemplating him staying because today he has been useful to us. He is an example for everyone. 

"Depending on how you train, you will play. We will see the future. We will see if there are exits and entrances. But they are all hypotheses."

 

De Jong has scored eight headed goals in all competitions since the 2019-20 season, a record surpassed only by Karim Benzema (13), Ante Budimir (11) and Youssef En-Nesyri (nine) among LaLiga players in all competitions.

It was also Barca's seventh headed goal in LaLiga this season, which is the most of any side and the same number they managed across 38 league matches last time out.

That match-winning moment helped Barca to just a second victory in six games across all competitions as they moved fifth in LaLiga and within a point of fourth-placed Atletico Madrid.

Xavi was pleased with the fighting spirit shown by his side, though the win would not have been possible if not for an impressive save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen to deny Juame Costa in stoppage time.

"There are three golden points," he said. "They way we played, and the circumstances we played in, this is a family victory. We have showed we know how to suffer.

"We had a very good first half and showed lots of personality. We are on the way up.

"We wanted the game to be suspended but I'm proud of the team, and proud of Marc. We needed him. He stopped a goal at the end and saved us.

"But the youngsters in the side are also helping us a lot. They have the right mentality and are well prepared. These three points put us in the fight for the top positions."

Riqui Puig was one of the many youngsters on display for Barca, the academy product making his landmark 50th appearance for the club in all competitions.

He completed 66 of his 69 passes for a passing accuracy of 96 per cent that no other Barcelona player could match on the day.

"Riqui was very good," Xavi said. "As were the others, like [Oscar] Mingueza and [Ferran] Jutgla. They have all worked hard for the team and it is exciting for us.

"This is the way forward and this victory is an example of that."

Dani Alves and Jordi Alba missed Sunday's win after testing positive for coronavirus, but the pair have since returned negative tests and have been given the green light to return to training from Monday.

Luuk de Jong scored the only goal of the game as a severely depleted Barcelona edged past Real Mallorca 1-0 in LaLiga on Sunday.

Xavi described the decision to force the Blaugrana to play as "crazy" after they were hit with a spate of COVID-19 cases during the mid-season break, but his makeshift side coped admirably against Luis Garcia's men.

De Jong – who had already hit the woodwork twice – headed in his second league goal of the campaign in the 44th minute to seal just a second win in Barca's last six games across all competitions.

The result moved the Catalan giants up to fifth – one point behind fourth-placed Atletico Madrid – while Mallorca remained in 15th.

Barca looked more lively than their hosts in the early stages and went close through Gerard Pique's free-kick and Ferran Jutgla's whipped strike.

De Jong twice went agonisingly close to opening the scoring moments before the half-hour mark, first poking against the post from Ilias Chakkour's pass and then crashing a spectacular bicycle kick off Manolo Reina's crossbar.

The striker was not to be denied shortly before the interval, though, rising highest at the back post to head home Oscar Mingueza's cross and give Barca a deserved half-time lead.

Barca continued to do much of the pressing after the break, with Pique and De Jong going close to grabbing a second. 

Marc-Andre ter Stegen superbly kept out Jaume Costa's stoppage-time volley as Xavi's side held on to claim a 12th win in their last 13 away LaLiga games against Mallorca. 

What does it mean? Youthful Barca continue fine run against hosts

Despite a starting XI with an average age of 24 years and 201 days – their third youngest since at least the 2005-06 season – Barca put in a mature, dominant performance to seal an eighth consecutive LaLiga win against Mallorca.

They enjoyed a whopping 64.7 per cent possession in a win that meant they have not lost their first game of the calendar year for the past seven seasons.

De Jong signing off in style

De Jong's loan from Sevilla is expected to the terminated this month, but the Netherlands striker is certainly going out with a bang. His header sealed all three points, while he was denied two more by the frame of the goal, becoming the first Barca player other than Lionel Messi to hit the woodwork twice in a single LaLiga game since August 2019.

Chakkour outshines Jutgla

Jutgla toiled in attack for the visitors, taking a single shot and failing to play a key pass. In contrast, Chakkour – playing on the other side of De Jong – had two shots and played a joint team-high three key passes.

What's next?

Both sides are in Copa del Rey action on Wednesday, with Barca travelling to Linares Deportivo and Mallorca visiting Eibar.

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti wants consistency when it comes to match postponement protocols following calls to have Barcelona's trip to Real Mallorca cancelled despite them being able to name a squad.

Several LaLiga clubs have suffered with coronavirus outbreaks over the past month or so, with Madrid among them.

Their bitter rivals Barcelona have come into 2022 amid something of a selection crisis of their own, with Xavi set to be without 17 players for their trip to Real Mallorca on Sunday.

Nine of the 17 are absent due to testing positive for COVID-19 in the past week, with Barca coach Xavi calling the decision not to postpone their match "crazy".

While postponements have become commonplace in the Premier League in recent weeks, LaLiga has remained generally uninterrupted due to regulations that make such situations far rarer.

Teams still have to play so long as they have 13 available players from their first and second teams.

Clubs must continue to adhere to the rule that dictates a minimum of seven players registered to the senior team are on the pitch at the same time, but that can drop to five players if teams have fewer than seven professionals available for selection.

Essentially, providing Barca can name five first-team players in a starting XI – there are 11 in the squad travelling to Mallorca – their games will not be postponed, and Ancelotti points out that any wavering in this regard would highlight a lack of consistency.

When asked if games should be postponed, Ancelotti told reporters: "It's a complicated issue. I respect everyone's opinion, because each person has their own.

"A lot of teams have been affected, as we were against Athletic [Bilbao]. There are protocols. We can offer opinions but we have to respect the protocols.

"Before making these decisions [to postpone games], the protocols would have to be changed.

"We've already been on hiatus, and there were a few months without games being played. The pandemic is relatively under control, and we have to continue [playing]."

Given Ancelotti's news conference fell on January 1, he was predictably asked again about the possibility of signing Kylian Mbappe on a free transfer – the Frenchman is now eligible to discuss a move as he is in the final six months of his contract.

But, unsurprisingly, the Italian gave short shrift to the questioning.

"I don't know," he replied to being quizzed on whether Mbappe will join. "We're thinking about fighting for titles.

"It's an interesting time because we're fighting for LaLiga, and the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana are starting too.

"It's an important period. The last thing I'm thinking about is what's going to happen on June 30.

"What I want is that, when the new stadium opens, I'll be sitting on the bench."

Xavi believes forcing Barcelona to play Real Mallorca on Sunday is "crazy" due to the Blaugrana's 17 first-team absences.

Barca were hit with a spate of COVID-19 cases during the winter break, with as many as 10 players testing positive for the illness.

One of those – Samuel Umtiti – has since returned a negative test meaning he is technically available for Sunday's trip, though he is not deemed match fit after being unable to train in the past week.

Additionally, Xavi is without five players through injury; Sergio Busquets is suspended; Yusuf Demir is negotiating his departure; and Ferran Torres, who is injured anyway, cannot be registered until Monday at the earliest.

While postponements have become commonplace in other competitions, such as the Premier League, regulations in LaLiga make such situations much rarer.

Teams will still have to play so long as they have 13 available players from their first and second teams. Clubs must continue to adhere to the rule that dictates a minimum of seven players registered to the senior team are on the pitch at the same time.

But that minimum can drop to five players if teams have fewer than seven professionals available for selection – essentially, as long as Barca can name five first-team players in a starting XI, their games will not be postponed, much to the frustration of Xavi.

"It makes no sense to play tomorrow," Xavi told reporters in Saturday's pre-match news conference.

"We are in an extreme situation. We have between 17-18 casualties, it depends on Umtiti, who today has tested negative but has not trained for a week.

"It's a time to suspend the game. In this way [not postponing the game], the competition is adulterated, it is crazy to play like this.

"We have no choice but to compete with who we have. Mallorca has also asked for it [the game to be postponed].

"We must appeal to common sense. It's not a complaint, it's a reality. Basketball has been suspended.

"We will play if LaLiga forces us. We've trained well, but it's a chaotic situation. Be that as it may, we will go out to compete and try to win."

Barca head into their first game of 2022 seventh in LaLiga, 18 points adrift of leaders Real Madrid.

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