May 28, 2022

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Questions Loom for Xavi’s Barcelona

It looks increasingly like 2022 will be the year that head coach and former player Xavi Hernandez either saves FC Barcelona or becomes the club’s latest staff loss. So far, fans and pundits have given Xavi a stamp of approval for his incremental improvements to the team’s rough start last August.

In fact, despite the club’s ongoing struggles to calibrate in terms of staff and roster, millions of fans have stuck around to see what’s next for the Camp Nou team. Like other illustrious clubs from Serie A to the Premier League, there’s often added coverage for teams that could make a comeback—and Barcelona is poised for major improvements under Xavi.

Even a sports betting site in Canada, where association football is less popular than other major league sports, covers every La Liga game. At the moment, Barça is listed behind Seville and Real Madrid for league champion, but their odds have improved since the season started.

While few are expecting a La Liga title this year, many fans have already started looking forward to seeing the team rebuild before May, with plans for a strong start to the 2022-23 season in late summer. Here are a few of the considerations that Xavi will need to work through in the meantime.

Hammering Out a Roster

Though much of the attention in the January transfer window has gone to Ousmane Dembélé, it looks like Barcelona will be dealing with tough proposals from the striker’s agent. Dembélé’s absence could spell a longer period of growing pains for Xavi, but there are other players who might provide key relief.

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With Dani Alves and Ferran Torres recently signed, some are studying other names like Sergino Dest and Riqui Puig. The first has seen limited playing time since Xavi became head coach. Five missed matches were due to injury, while the next four saw Dest ride the bench the entire game.

Some have eyed a move to Bayern for Dest, though sources hint he’d like to stay in Camp Nou. Meanwhile, Puig also seems to have failed to impress the new coach—along with Quique Setien and Ronald Koeman, Xavi’s predecessors. It seems time is running out for the Catalan midfielder.

Handling Senior Talent

While Xavi searches for a winning combination with new players and international talents, there are two notable Catalan veterans on the team: Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets. Both have come under fire in the last few years as the squad struggled; there was even a brief ‘Bench Busquets’ movement after a flub in a game against Madrid.

However, Xavi has spoken out in defense of Busquets, stating plainly that he’s an essential asset to the team and won’t be going anywhere. Pique, on the other hand, seems to be firmly in Xavi’s camp—and vice versa—despite rumors swirling last November that the pair weren’t meshing well.

Incremental Growth

So far, Xavi’s improvements with Barcelona have come at a slow but consistent pace. Following Barça’s 3-2 overtime loss to Real Madrid in the Supercopa, Xavi didn’t lament the missed opportunity. While he said in a post-game press conference that he was sad and angry that they didn’t win, he noted that it was a step forward.

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And most fans who watched the game would agree. While the team didn’t dominate the play, there were solid interims in which Barcelona looked like the comfortable, quick-moving squad it once was. When asked for more details, Xavi said his side still lacked experience, patience, and responsibility.

While statistics from the game registered 53% possession for Barcelona, proving that they’re moving back to a more dominant and relaxed style of play, Madrid capitalized on their opportunities. Going forward, improving Barça’s counter will be critical.