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Leeds vs. Norwich: All the 2s

The Toe Poke

Q & A with Alexander Hleb

Injured during his full Primera Liga debut against Racing Santander £11.8 million midfielder Alexander Hleb has found it tough to fight his way back into a Barcelona side that have stormed to the top of the league; scoring 34 goals in 10 games.

But the 27-year-old, who followed the well trodden path from Arsenal to the Camp Nou in the summer, is on the verge of claiming a regular place in the first eleven despite being yet to reach his top form following the blow he took to his left ankle from Santander's Pablo Pinillos.

A regular at Arsenal during his three years in north London the five-time Belarusian player of the year is finding harder to make his mark amongst the star studded Barcelona team, but he is determined to do so.

Hleb talks to' Lucy Turner about his new club, new manager and life in Spain ahead of Barca's clash with Recreativo Huelva this weekend.

Q: It's been a few months for you now at FC Barcelona. How are things fitting in for you?

A: Now things are much better and of course, I'm learning Spanish, I feel more like at home. I'm more integrated in the team and that's something that is very important for me. Of course I need to work a little harder and play better with a little more time, but everything is ok. I'm happy and I like how everything is going.

When you received the offer from Barcelona, did you have to think about it very much or was it an appealing challenge for you?

Of course it was an offer from a fantastic club. It's harder work here to make it into the first eleven. But Barcelona is fantastic and everything is very good.

There's quite a connection between Arsenal and Barcelona, players coming and going from the Emirates to the Camp Nou and back and obviously you had Cesc to tell you about Barcelona that end and Henry to guide you here.

Yes, it was great. I spoke a lot about Barcelona with Cesc before I arrived here. He explained about a lot of things, about the place and about the fantastic weather. I want to enjoy my time at the club and I'm very happy to be here.

For some time now there are rumours about Cesc returning to Barcelona. Would there be 'room' for him in the team with Xavi in midfield?

I don't know. I can't really say anything about that. Xavi is a fantastic player and Cesc is my friend, You'll have to ask him if he wants to come to Barcelona or not because I think he is happy at Arsenal, so I don't know if he's coming to Barcelona or not.

If there's one thing impressive about Barça recently is the amount of good players coming through from the youth teams.

Yes, the club has a fantastic youth scheme and we see the young players at Barcelona playing as if they were already 30-years-old. Busquets, Pedro, Bojan, etc. all these players are very good and I think for the clubs it's excellent.

What do you think of the coach: young, knows the club very well and doing surprisingly well...

I think he's very good. He's young, he's brought a lot of discipline into the club and he has a lot of contact with the players and that's fantastic at the moment because everything is going so well at Barcelona.

How does he compare to Arsene Wenger?

I don't know. They are two very different people. I don't really want to speak because I have a lot of respect for Arsene Wenger and Guardiola and I wouldn't like to say who is better than the other so I'll say they are both very good.

Arsenal did well this weekend beating Manchester United. Do you try to follow the Premier League from Spain?

Of course I follow the English Premier League from Spain. I have English TV at home and I watch all their games.

With your league debut in mind and the tackle which led to your injury against Racing Santander, you've said the Spanish league is much tougher than the English one.

I saw that sometimes in Spain players kick you; they go after you rather than the ball. I think this is a little bit dangerous. Did you see the game when a player broke his leg? [Diaz de Cerio from Real Sociedad in Second Division]. I think referees need to protect the players more during games in the Spanish league, but in football you never know what can happen. In England for example, when I played against Birmingham, a player (Eduardo) broke a leg and I saw how it happened and it was very bad.

What other things in Spanish football are you learning to handle apart from that?

Well, I think the Spanish league has very good quality, fantastic football. When we played against the Second Division club Benidorm in the Copa del Rey I realized anybody can play well and it was a very difficult game against them. I think everyone in Spain can play well which means we have to be concentrated in all our games because we can lose points if we're not 100% concentrated.

34 goals in 10 games is the best record since the 1950s at Barça. That's obviously good news for the club but does it worry the coach and the team in the sense that the supporters will always demand big wins?

But I like winning 5-0 or 6-0! (Laughs) And I think the team likes that too! I think it's very important to win but it's much better if it's a 5-0 win. I think the fans like those results, enjoy the matches with such big scores. I'm happy with that and I think so is everyone else.

Samuel Eto'o is on 13 goals now. Did it surprise you that Pep Guardiola didn't want him in the team during the summer?

I don't really know why. Eto'o is a superstar and one of the best strikers in the world. I don't really want to speak about why Guardiola didn't want him in the summer. But the truth is that I'm happy he stayed in Barcelona, he's helping us a lot, he's scoring a lot of goals and if he carries on like this he can be voted the best striker in the world.

In your case, you have said you think you can adapt to playing in other positions and hope to start scoring too.

I want to start scoring goals, yes. But after my injury I'm still not in my best form. What I do know is that coach Guardiola believes in me and we talk a lot about my game so I hope soon enough I'm back into my best form and start scoring goals.

After the draw against FC Basel means the next game against Sporting Lisbon is a key one to guarantee first spot in Group C and avoid 'top teams' in the next draw.

Yes, I think we always want to win our games and we don't think about the draw so much as we do about winning our matches. We're out to win the three points against Sporting. I know this isn't done yet, but we're counting on it.


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