It was a tale of two Barcelona teams against Villarreal on Saturday.
An excellent start, with Ez Abde in particular showing danger with every touch of the ball, and repaying his manager for showing confidence in him.
Halfway through the first period, however, the structure of the three-man backline broke down, with Eric Garcia getting exposed repeatedly on the right side.
Give credit to Ronald Araujo and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who covered for their teammates with important tackles and saves, and their manager who simply got the tactics wrong.
All was well to start things off.
Barcelona came out playing with energy, pressing high, and maintaining a dominant 80% possession up to the 20 minute mark.
For the first time in a long time, Barcelona looked dangerous on the right flank with Abde in attack mode.
Xavi deserves credit for this selection. Yusuf Demir and Ilias had good moments recently, but Abde is the one who can make the biggest impact on both sides of the ball.
Once Villarreal discovered Barca’s defensive vulnerability on the left flank, the game turned, and the Catalans were fortunate to make it to half-time without surrendering any goals.
It was so bad, in my opinion, that a half-time adjustment was practically screaming out.
Put in Sergino Dest as the right full-back? That’s an option.
Stay with the three center-backs, but put Clement Lenglet on the left, with Ronald Araujo taking over for the overwhelmed Eric Garcia? Another logical choice.
But Xavi did nothing, and the problem not only remained in the second half, it got worse once Jordi Alba went down with an injury.
Even with a 1-0 lead, you could see the tide turning, and Barcelona without the needed in-game management to counter it.
Not having Alejandro Balde available was yet another frustrating setback for the manager.
But come on, this one was easy.
You have Sergino Dest. An incredibly versatile full-back who has already shown his ability to fill in on the left side with aplomb. He’s done it both for Barcelona this season and the USMNT.
Unless there’s something Xavi knows about Dest’s fitness that we don’t, this was unforgivable.
Oscar Mingueza has been struggling of late, and he was given the complicated task of playing on his weak side, and stopping Barcelona killer Samuel Chukwueze.
The moment Mingueza went in, and Abde came out, Villarreal put the pedal to the metal, determined not just to recover one point, but to take all three.
Abde was the best player on the day and he also, perhaps surprisingly, has the best dribbling record in La Liga. The teenager attempts a dribble every seven minutes and has completed 12 in 131 minutes played.
Why take him out with all the impact he was making, especially when Ousmane Dembele is capable of playing both sides?
But it wasn’t just the substitutions. His players weren’t playing the Xavi way.
Absolutely no pressing up front to win the ball back.
Without that, the game falls apart.
Hopefully Xavi gets on his forwards and attacking midfielders for their capitulation there.
In the end, however, the result is what counts, and the fury of attacks down the stretch will be what’s remembered.
So far, it looks like luck but may be on Xavi’s side, and that may be all he needs to learn his lessons, and make the team better the next go around.
How brilliant to see Memphis score the game-winning goal with such composure against the run of the play.
This is a man who has been struggling for form, but is undroppable with the lack of options up front.
Could this be the goal that starts a run of productivity?
Usually it’s Barca who surrender cheap goals on the counter attack, even when they’re dominating the game, but this time circumstances were reversed.
Good fortune will find it’s way to you at some point, but you have to do something with it.
Great to see Philippe Coutinho have a moment in the sun as well.
It’s hard to see him playing much going forward, but it would be a boost to have him gain confidence and play even a small role off the bench.
Xavi, this time around you got the result in spite of a poor performance.
That’s OK considering that recently the performances have been quite good, and the team deserved more than they got.
Good managers will recognize luck when they have it and won’t abuse it.
The team will not survive another outing like this.
You can do better.
They can do better.
Best of all Barca fans, it sounds like Xavi himself is taking responsibility and is fully self-critical.
Now back to the training ground. There’s work to do.