Xavi and laissez-faire Barça

I really enjoyed the first half of Xavi’s debut as Barça coach. What we saw was glimpses of the Barça we know and love. What I mean by that is the Barça which remains in our imagination, the recent Barça side in which Xavi played, the one he promised us. During those first 45 minutes they looked dominant, eager to take the game to their opponents, and quickly won the ball back whenever they lost it. Their dominance was thrilling to watch. Chances on goal were few and far between, but they did generate some and let’s not forget the same could be said about the old Barça… apart from Messi’s single-handed forays, but those are long gone and the likes of which we may never see again. Espanyol looked timid, hardly crossing the halfway line, Raúl de Tomás was isolated and the rest of the team sat back and defended.

Barcelona fade after strong start

An opening goal didn’t arrive until the start of the second half - in the way it did. The team went into decline soon after. With a slim lead to cling on to, Barça faded, became less aggressive and gave Espanyol a chance to breathe. It was a process which happened uniformly and considerably, to a point where the final quarter hour seemed like another game. Once again we saw a Barça side that appeared disjointed, insecure and in their opponents’ pocket. Xavi rejected suggestions that the collapse could have been physically-related, and he has all of the data. So it must have been down to some kind kind of emotional change which triggered anxiety to creep back in. Suddenly it was as though memories of all of the recent misfortunes resurfaced and the team lacked confidence in itself to play with the self assurance it displayed throughout the first half.

Benfica visit

Later today they have a much tougher test and one with a much greater risk. The team visiting Camp Nou tonight put three past Barça just a couple of months ago. Both of the players who Xavi played out on the right wing are unavailable, the injured players remain out, and the absence of ‘Golden Boy’ Pedri (Ballon d’Or winner with the Under-21s) only accentuates the feeling of nostalgia. While Barcelona wait for his return, and the others on the casualty list (especially Ansu Fati and Dembélé) Xavi has the task of injecting spirit and enthusiasm back into a Barça side who sometimes appeared resigned to accept that things are just the way they are. And that’s not going to be easy. The players need conviction and resolution, and to maintain it rather than allow it to evaporate in the second half.