When Xavi Hernández was appointed as Barcelona head coach, on matchday 13, the Catalans were ninth, level with Valencia and Espanyol, six points off the fourth and final Champions League spot. There were reasonable doubts over whether or not Barça would make the top four. Now, they’re third, three points behind Sevilla, with a game in hand. No-one has any doubts that Barça will qualify for the Champions League now. Indeed, the real optimists even believe they could yet win the title, if Madrid suffer a series of slip-ups like they did in their season under Carlos Queiroz. It’s been an extraordinary turnaround under Xavi, costly draw with Benfica aside. But Sunday’s 4-0 Clásico romp makes up for that.
It’s been a quiet revolution, all about method and simplicity. Arriving at a club in bad shape, Xavi found things were even worse than expected. Not only was there a major over-relaxation of discipline in the first team (that was the negative side of Lionel Messi’s time at the club; the players were in charge), but he also found that the teachings instilled in him from an early age had fallen by the wayside in the youth system. Lads coming through the ranks didn’t know things that were La Masia fundamentals when it produced its all-conquering generation of players: positional understanding, a man free in every section of the pitch… That’s why he keeps reiterating that there’s a lot of work still to be done.
Alemany's influence has also been key at Barcelona
Xavi has been helped by the easing of an at times unbearable spate of injuries, and by the signings Barça made in January. The impact Mateu Alemany has had in that department is clear. He didn’t manage to sell Ousmane Dembélé, who Xavi has since made the most of, but he offloaded Philippe Coutinho, got the team captains to cut or partially defer their wages, and made good choices when it came to new recruits, particularly the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on a free. And, miraculously, he kept Barça inside LaLiga’s financial-fair-play limits; quite a balancing act. Xavi and Alemany have brought direction to club president Joan Laporta’s optimism, and Barcelona are starting to look like Barcelona once more.