Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has said Barcelona youngsters Gavi and Nico have a “great future,” ahead of their Clasico meeting in the Spanish Supercopa in Saudi Arabia, backing their rivals to improve under coach Xavi Hernandez.

Madrid and Barca meet in the competition’s opening semifinal in Riyadh on Wednesday, with Atletico Madrid facing Athletic Bilbao a day later for a place in Sunday’s final.

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Madrid have won the last four Clasico meetings — including a 2-1 victory at Camp Nou in October when previous Barca boss Ronald Koeman was in charge — but Ancelotti, speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, insisted that Barca have plenty of reasons for optimism.

“It’s a team where, apart from the veteran players like [Gerard] Pique, [Sergio] Busquets and Jordi Alba who always make an important contribution, the youngsters stand out right now,” he said. “Gavi, Nico… I think all those players can have a great future.”

Barcelona’s youthful contingent in Saudi Arabia has been boosted by the inclusion of Ansu Fati after his return from injury, while Pedri and new signing Ferran Torres arrived on Tuesday after testing negative for COVID-19.

Barca were held to a 1-1 draw by Granada in LaLiga on Saturday and are 17 points behind Madrid in the table, but Ancelotti backed Xavi to turn things around.

“They’re a team I like because they have quite a clear idea of how they want to play, in line with the identity of the club,” he said. “They’ve had a good run since [Xavi] arrived. I think with his contribution, his ideas and his attitude the team will improve.”

Madrid were eliminated by Athletic in the semifinals of last year’s competition, but won it the previous year in Saudi Arabia, beating Atletico on penalties.

They go into the Supercopa having bounced back from a 1-0 defeat at Getafe in their first game of 2022 with an impressive 4-1 LaLiga win over Valencia on Saturday.

“In the league we could be better than Barca, but in my experience there are no favourites in a Clasico,” midfielder Toni Kroos said on Tuesday. “Tomorrow is like a final and in a final anything can happen.”