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Champions League: Xavi’s new Barça show Europe what they’ve got


It’s funny what happened on Champions League night on Wednesday. At the Camp Nou, Barcelona put on a five-star display; at the Wanda Metropolitano, Atlético Madrid’s clash with Porto was just awful. Yet once the final whistle sounded in Catalonia, the Atlético game embarked on a frenzy of late plot twists, suddenly grabbing all the evening’s headlines. Now the dust has settled on the unexpected stoppage-time drama in Madrid, though, thoughts return to Barça’s wonderful performance against Viktoria Plzen; to Robert Lewandowski’s relentlessly lethal centre-forward play; and to the deft man management shown by Xavi, who gave run-outs to players who’ll have been feeling forgotten. Right now, everything seems to be going swimmingly at this new Barça. They have quite a squad.

Lewandowski, Dembélé, Koundé...

Viktoria were hardly top-drawer opposition, you might say. True, but you can only beat what’s in front of you. There will be stiffer tests to come against Bayern Munich and AC Milan, but in the meantime it does Barça no harm at all to cut loose and get their fans out of their seats. Lewandowski is LaLiga’s stand-out signing of the summer, a striker who not only scores goals, but is also a leader. Ousmane Dembélé has proven that Xavi was right to persist with a lad who most had written off as a lost cause. Jules Koundé, another player the Barça head coach was insistent on having in his ranks, has slotted in nicely: in addition to all that he does in defence, he’s also supplied three assists in two games. And the team as a whole is conscientiously abiding by the ‘four Ps’ that are sacrosanct at La Masía: possession, pressing, position and perception.

Xavi’s changes work out well

Xavi, who has settled on his preferred XI at Barça, took the chance to give some of his regulars a rest and lift the spirits of others, making six changes to his first-choice line-up. Everyone who came in did well, or indeed very well. That said, I’d like to have seen more from Ansu Fati, a player we all know needs to be handled with care. As the night wore on, game time was also given to other players who have been overlooked: Gerard Piqué, who earned warm applause in recognition of his contribution to the club; Ferran Torres, who scored a much-needed goal; Memphis Depay; and even young Pablo Torre, who’ll be missing Racing Santander a little less after getting on for a few minutes. All very well managed. Now Barça face an exacting examination of their European credentials against a familiar, daunting foe. They take on Bayern in Munich on Tuesday.