BARCELONA, September 18- Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez insisted he hasn’t been frustrated by his lack of opportunities under new boss Luis Enrique after starting for the first time this season in a much-changed side in a 1-0 victory over APOEL Nicosia on Wednesday.
Gerard Pique’s first-half header was enough to hand the Catalans an unconvincing winning start to their Champions League campaign against the Cypriot champions.
Xavi started alongside youngsters Sergi Samper and Sergi Roberto in midfield as Enrique made nine changes in all from the side that started Saturday’s 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.
“I am happy. When my turn to play comes I will try to be useful,” said the 34-year-old, who moved level with Real Madrid legend Raul for the all-time record of Champions League appearances with 142.
Despite the presence of Lionel Messi and Neymar in attack, Barca struggled to create clear-cut chances against the mass ranks of the APOEL defence and Xavi admitted the lack of fluidity in the final third.
“We struggled. We tried to move the ball quickly and we didn’t manage to do it,” he added.
“It is true we dominated. We tried through the middle and wide, but they defended very well.
“In the end it was a tiring game, but we have won and we have to treat it like it is. It is always good to start the group stage with three points,”
The narrow victory was enough to take Barca to the top of Group F as French champions Paris Saint-Germain were held 1-1 in Amsterdam by Ajax.
Next up for Barca in Europe is a trip to Paris on September 30 and Enrique admitted that a run of six games in 18 days had been part of his reasoning for making so many changes.
“I have to manage the squad. I am convinced that if it works we will be successful and we need the help of all the players.
“It worked today because we won and the opponent created very little. We had problems in attack and we will evaluate and analyse them.
“The players aren’t machines. They need to be precise, fresh, be able to find solutions and it is also difficult against a team that sits back in its own box.”
Samper became the latest academy product to be handed his debut in Enrique’s short time in charge, following in the footsteps of Munir El Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez.
And Enrique praised the 19-year-old’s performance, as well as German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen who was also making his debut after a 12 million euro transfer from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer and made a crucial save to prevent Gustavo Manduca snatching a point for the visitors in stoppage time.
“To debut in the Camp Nou in the Champions League is never easy. Samper has a lot of quality and I think he played well.
“Ter Stegen didn’t have much to do, but he was there when we needed him and he did his job.
“I don’t have a goalkeeper for each competition. We have three very good goalkeepers and they will play depending on what the team needs.”