Xavi won his first silverware as Barca head coach last month, as his side defeated arch rivals Real Madrid 3-1 in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in Riyadh.
Barcelona are back to where they belong in the La Liga Santander – they are sitting at the summit of the points table, eight points clear of the chasing pack. Blaugrana are clear favourites to get their hands on the coveted league-trophy this term. The Catalan based club have been in stunning form, having not lost a single match since going down 3-0 against Bayern Munich in the Champions League stage in October. Meanwhile, Barca surprisingly failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, having finished third in the group and were eliminated down to the Europa League.
100% record in 2️⃣0️⃣2️⃣3️⃣https://t.co/7U8iNhFpkW
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) February 21, 2023
The one man who is largely responsible for changes in fortunes is Xavi Hernandez. The Spaniard took charge of Blaugrana in November 2021 and after a trophy-less debut season, the 43-year-old has definitely transformed Barca into a genuine title-contenders in Spain. Xavi won his first silverware as Barca head coach last month, as his side defeated arch rivals Real Madrid 3-1 in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in Riyadh. As of now, Barca are sitting at the summit of the Spanish top flight standings, having collected 59 points from 22 games, eight clear of the reigning champions Real Madrid at the second position. Xavi has been gradually building a new team in his identity, with a handful of big name signings in the 2022 summer transfer window, including Robert Lewandowski, Andreas Christensen and Jules Kounde.
|La Liga 2022/23||MP||W||D||L||Points|
Meanwhile, under the Stewardship of Luis Enrique (2014-2017), Blaugrana won nine titles out of 13, including two La Liga trophies and a UEFA Champions League. However, since the departure of manager Enrique, Barcelona have never looked like the European power house until this season. The Catalans are now looking like their old selves again in recent months. Xavi didn’t have the best of debut season in Europe, finishing second in the 2021/22 La Liga season and getting eliminated from Europa League in the quarter-finals after losing 4-3 on aggregate. But this time around, the Catalans are comfortably sitting at the summit of the Spanish top flight standings, eight points clear of the reigning champions Real Madrid at the second spot.
|La Liga 2021/22||MP||W||D||L||Points|
The 2021-22 season was one to forget for the La Liga giants, having not won a single trophy. Got eliminated from the group stages of Champions League before losing out to Frankfurt in the Europa League quarter-finals stage. Meanwhile the 2020-21 Copa del Rey champions failed to successfully defend their title, getting eliminated from the last-16 stage, after losing 3-2 against Athletic Bilbao.
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Barcelona’s poor defensive record was one of the main reasons for the team’s poor performances in the last couple of seasons. Xavi’s side conceded 38 goals in the last La Liga season, averaging one goal conceded per match, which was way more than what the Spaniard would have wished for. The back-four led by veteran Gerard Pique often lacked the solidity and pace required while playing a high-line.
Xavi was quick to address this problem during the last summer transfer window, bringing in the likes of Kounde, Marcos Alonso and Christensen to add more pace and youthful exuberance to the defence. Meanwhile, the emergence of Ronald Araujo and Alejandro Balde has certainly rejuvenated the back line. 33-year-old left-back Jordi Alba is the most experienced defender in the squad after the retirement of Pique and the Spanish international has got enough fuel in the tank to burn for one or two more top tier seasons.
|Season (LaLiga)||MP||Goals conceded||Goals conceded per match||No. of clean sheets|
Araujo’s rise has been particularly important. The Uruguayan’s ability to play at both the centre-back and right-back positions has allowed Xavi to shuffle the back-four according to the need of the hour. Last month, in the final of the Spanish super cup against Real Madrid in Riyadh, Araujo started at the right-back position and did a solid job of containing Vinicius Junior. The 23-year-old’s speed, aerial dominance and ability on the ball are all crucial to Barca’s watertight defence. Barca went on to win the match 3-1 and Xavi won his first piece of silverware as the head coach of the Catalans.
Kounde is another key player in Xavi’s setup as the Frenchman’s ability to carry the ball forward and also deliver pinpoint long balls gives an extra dimension to Barca’s play. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old has got good positional awareness and is very quick, which is very essential while playing a high line of defence. If we compare Barca’s defensive stats from last season to this, there has been a massive improvement and the numbers are there to be seen in the table:-
Although Barcelona scored 68 goals during the whole of the last La Liga campaign, with an average of 1.8 goals per match, it was way below champions Real Madrid, who found the back of the net 80 times in 38 league-games. Memphis Depay was Barca’s top scorer last term, with 12 scalps to his name in 28 appearances, which was way below what up expect from a Barcelona strike, a position which was previously owned by greats like, Lionel Messi, David Villa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thierry Henry among others.
|Season (La Liga)||MP||Total goals scored||Goals per match|
Xavi was desperate to bring in a proven striker and Lewandowski was the most high-profile signing Barca have made since Luiz Suarez in 2014. The Polish striker has very well lived up to the expectations, scoring a whopping 20 goals in 24 games across all competitions for Blaugrana this season. The 34-year-old has loads of experience under his belt, having scored a whopping 312 Bundesliga goals, before moving to Spain. The Poland international is brilliant with his movement in and around the penalty box, and can hold up play, allowing the fellow attackers to play around him. Most of Barca’s moves end with a shot for Lewandowski, or at least that is the intention. He is more than capable of finishing off one touch with great precision and the width provided by Alba/ Balde on the left and Ousmane Dembele on the right has led to more crosses for the former Bayern Munich legend.
Top goal-scorers (2021/22)
|Players||MP (La Liga)||No. of goals|
|Luuk de Jong||21||6|
Top goal-scorers (2022/23)
|Players||MP (La Liga)||No. of goals|
A decade ago, when Barcelona dominated the world football, it was largely due to the most gifted midfield-trio the world has ever seen, consisting of the current manager Xavi, alongwith Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. The trio was crucial to Pep Guardiola’s possession based football and since the departure of Xavi and Iniesta, Barca have never been able to control the midfield. Busquets has been brilliant in front of the back-four and controls the pace of the game, but the Catalans lack creativity while going forward. The new midfield-trio of Pedri, Gavi and Busquets seems to be bringing back the old glory days for Barca. Both Pedri (20) and Gavi (18) are very young but have already cemented their places in both club and Spanish national teams.
Pedri is arguably the most talented playmaker in world football right now and the 20-year-old’s ability to maneuver through the opposition defence is second to none. He is supremely talented with the ball at his feet and has got a good range of passing. Gavi, on the other hand, is a warhorse in the middle of the park. The teenager never stops running, presses higher up the pitch, dispossessing the opposition . He can operate as a false winger who converts into a number 10 to receive between the lines, turn and provide a killer pass or get into the box to provide a goal threat. Apart from these two La Masia graduates, Dutchman Frenkie de Jong is also settling into Xavi’s system after some initial hiccups.
These are the main components which have transformed Barcelona’s return to a lofty position in La Liga. There is still more potential in the team, and also room for growth. The Spanish tactician will definitely want to replicate his success into the European stage, which is what the fans and management wants, and they are on the right path to achieve greatness in the next couple of seasons.
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