When you’re battling for a spot at the top of the table, only wins will do.
Xavi knows this better than anyone, and will be kicking himself for not getting out of his own way after dropping points in Pamplona.
For better, and maybe at times for worse, Xavi is not like Ronald Koeman.
So far, to mixed results, he’s shown a willingness to experiment and take risks.
Part of this is out of necessity. Especially with player selection, since the list of available players continues to drop from week to week.
In terms of formation and tactics, however, Xavi is a searcher, and is unwilling to settle for a pragmatic, and consistent solution.
In the short term, this style of management can be painful when you’re not getting results, and stagnating in the middle of the table.
The question will be whether this experimentation leads to the discovery of a winning formula that allows the team to put together a winning streak.
Against Osasuna, Xavi took big risks to start the game.
It’s been a pattern of late not knowing exactly what the formation is, as if it’s a secret between the manager and his players.
Whatever it was, it seemed to be working well, especially given the short notice with Memphis Depay going down, and just a few days to prepare.
Give credit to Gavi for taking on a big role, giving cover to Abde as a de facto left back at times, while bursting forward to support the attack in possession.
Give Abde credit as well for taking advantage of the advanced positioning he found himself in. So far, he is the early revelation of the Xavi era, and making himself indispensable going forward.
Xavi also deserves credit for giving Samuel Umtiti a chance, especially after Clement Lenglet was seen cracking jokes after the Champions League embarassment.
In spite of a few rusty passes, Umtiti looked aggressive and eager to show he can still contribute, making his manager’s selection more difficult going forward, and maybe creating opportunities for movement when the transfer window opens.
Barcelona dominated possession in the first half, and looked as good as they’ve looked in a long time playing out of the back.
The first goal was totally deserved, but the quick equalizer from Osasuna was a reminder that Barcelona continue to be vulnerable defending set pieces, with abysmal man marking.
Barcelona really needs a set piece specialist who can improve the team on both sides of the ball. Even offensively, it’s absurd how many corners and free kicks they win, and how little they are able to do with them.
Going into the second half, with a bit of luck, Barca was rewarded again, and Xavi deserves recognition for how his system set them up.
Nico, who had a solid game as a box to box midfielder, released Ousmane Dembele, who was in a perfect position to start the counter attack, finding a locked and loaded Abde, who seemed determined to show a composed and clinical finish.
With a 2-1 lead, this is where managers need to shine and find a way to capture the win.
Removing Nico, and putting in Oscar Mingueza, was simply the wrong choice.
Mingueza didn’t do anything wrong particularly, rather it was the disruption to the team at a time when the structure and tactics were working.
Nico was one of the better players on the day, and it was a big risk changing to a four man backline, and at the very least not choosing Sergino Dest or Alejandro Balde, two players who are comfortable playing the position.
It could also be said that Xavi waited too long to make a substitution at all, and that the one screaming out was to take out Luuk de Jong, who was one of the few players making no positive impact on the game.
Why not bring on Ferran Jutgla or Philippe Coutinho earlier?
Fresh legs that can press, and maybe put away a decisive goal to ice the game.
In fact, starting Luuk was probably the only bad decision Xavi made to start the game.
For now, a false nine needs to be on the table. Having Yusuf Demir, Coutinho, or even Riqui Puig play that role, is surely better than going with the clunky and ineffective De Jong.
Against Bayern Munich, no doubt the players deserved an earful for playing with so little desire and intensity.
In this one, however, Xavi needs to raise his hand and show his players that he isn’t afraid of being held accountable. The game management just wasn’t good enough.
It’s a painful result to accept, but there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself.
Xavi is young and has a lot to learn.
And I have no doubt he will learn from every mistake he makes.
Barcelona are in the trenches now, and they need to keep their wits, and stay in the fight.
It won’t get easier from here, but there is still plenty of time.
Having a manager like Xavi who is positive, flexible, and focused on winning will help see them through.
The pressure is on him now to do better next time.