Can Barcelona win at Bayern?
Barcelona’s draw with Benfica leaves Xavi’s team with a very daunting final fixture against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena which they will in all likelihood need to win to progress.
It’s the tallest of tall orders but, on the plus side, Bayern are already guaranteed top spot and could take the opportunity to rotate some regulars.
Even so, they will still provide very tricky opposition, although it’s worth noting they have not been completely invincible this season.
Borussia Monchengladbach snatched a draw in the season opener, while Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Augsburg have been grabbed shock wins over the Bavarian giants.
Xavi was pretty bullish after the game about his team’s hopes in Munich and also has another two weeks to work with his team and hopefully get some injured players back.
Having Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati available for the crunch clash would be a major boost, and the duo will surely be needed if Barca are to avoid dropping into the Europa League.
Xavi’s changes plain to see already
Xavi’s only been in charge for two games but the changes he has made are plain to see already. The new coach’s team selections have also been interesting and he raised a few eyebrows again as he tweaked his formation and started Gerard Pique, Ronald Araujo, and Clement Lenglet. Yusuf Demir was also preferred to Philippe Coutinho in attack.
The biggest thing that’s changed is the intensity and the desire to press and hunt in packs like the Barca of old. Sports writer Andy West showed off how Barca hit a few season highs under Xavi on Tuesday.
Season highs set by Barça last night:— Andy West (@andywest01) November 24, 2021
- Tackles (25)
- Distance covered (120.9 km)
- Ball recoveries (96, joint high)
- Duels (267)
Xavi's biggest task is improving his team's play without the ball. He's already making an impact. (Stats from @Wyscout)
It seems that, unlike under Ronald Koeman, Barcelona finally have an actual plan of how to play (imagine) and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen highlighted that fact after the match.
“Everyone sees the change with Xavi. We are all very plugged in,” he said. “We have an idea of playing that is very difficult for the opponent to defend. We leave them very little space to mark us. This is good.”
The only thing really missing at the moment is goals but that’s hardly a surprise given Ansu Fati, Sergio Aguero, Martin Braithwaite, and Ousmane Dembele (who appeared as a late sub) are missing. The result is clearly not want Barca wanted, but the early signs under Xavi are encouraging and suggest that the team is, finally, heading in the right direction.
Busquets and Gavi thriving under Xavi
One of Xavi’s top priorities is to get the best out of what is a very talented midfield, and there were two players in particular who stood out on Tuesday.
Gavi continues to dazzle and posted a very impressive stat as he put just a single pass astray during his 90 minutes on the pitch. Don’t forget he’s still only 17 and will surely only get better as he matures.
97% - Against Benfica, Gavi completed 97% of his passes (34/35), his highest percentage in a match for @FCBarcelona in all competitions. He also was involved in 4 shots (2 attempted and 2 key passes), equalling his best tally (also 4 vs Alavés, 1 and 3). Personality. pic.twitter.com/4vglZ6MdeL— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 24, 2021
Captain Sergio Busquets also put in the sort of performance that showed he’s far from finished. Opta highlighted his ball recoveries but there was so much more than that, particularly a couple of glorious penetrative passes that set up chances for Barca.
14 - Sergio Busquets made 14 recoveries against Benfica, his best tally in a single game for @FCBarcelona this season in all competitions and equalling his best tally in a @ChampionsLeague match (14 vs PSV in November 2018). Oxygen. pic.twitter.com/eZyXu4Oa3V— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 23, 2021
Xavi still has Pedri to come back and Frenkie de Jong and Nico Gonzalez and it will be fascinating to see how one of the best midfielders to grace the game juggles his options throughout the season.
Dembele can be the difference
Another reason to be positive was the very welcome return of Dembele who came on as a substitute and made an instant impact. The Frenchman was cheered onto the pitch by fans and almost delivered a goal straightaway with a cross that Frenkie de Jong headed over.
Dembele’s future at the club remains uncertain, with the forward out of contract in the summer, but Xavi once again said after the match he hopes he renews and also praised his performance.
“He changed the dynamic of the game,” he said. He generates fear in the opponent. He created chances. It’s a shame a goal didn’t come from one of his crosses or shots.
“I’ve spoken with him and he’s happy here. He took a risk playing today because he’s not 100 percent; another player wouldn’t have done that.
“There was a risk of a relapse, but he surprises you as a person. He’s different from what you think. For me, he’s an important player. If he’s on the pitch, things happen. I hope he renews.”
Xavi’s revelation that Barca were willing to risk Dembele when he wasn’t quite 100% is slightly worrying but also shows just how much he was needed against Benfica. He only played 24 minutes but you get the feeling goals may have arrived if he’d been available from the start.
Shout out to Araujo
Tuesday’s performance also saw Barca keen a second clean sheet under Xavi, although no-one quite knows how Haris Seferovic managed to miss in stoppage time. Benfica coach Jorge Jesus described it as the worst miss he’d seen in 30 years as a coach after the game.
That aside, the performance of Ronald Araujo should not go unnoticed. The Uruguayan was an absolute wall at the back and showed once again just how important he can be, provided he can stay fit.
| Ronald Araújo vs Benfica.— Barça Buzz (@Barca_Buzz) November 23, 2021
• 64 Touches.
• 37/43 Passes.
• 2 Long Balls.
• 1 Cross.
• 2 Shots.
• 1 Disallowed Goal.
• 9/11 Duels Won.
• 1 Dribble.
• 5/5 Tackles.
• 3/4 Aerials Won.
• 1 Interception.
• 6 Ball Recoveries.
• 0 Fouls Committed. pic.twitter.com/LBzatoWZtR
The 22-year-old thought he’d won it too with a great volley late on, only for the offside flag to go up. It was the right call but it was harsh on Araujo and would have capped a superb performance.
There have been whispers for a while now that Araujo is one of the next players in line for a contract extension. The Catalan giants would be wise to get the Uruguayan signed up in case other clubs starting sniffing around the 22-year-old.