Barca’s best game under Xavi?
Barcelona may not have managed to beat Sevilla on Tuesday but there’s no doubt this was a very promising performance that may just be the team’s best so far under Xavi.
There’s still a very long way to go but there’s been a clear improvement in the Catalans under their new boss. The intention is clear, the mentality is improving, and the team has even rediscovered it’s shooting boots.
Opta highlighted (below) Barca’s first-half shots and the visitors finished with 23 in total, including 11 from outside the area. That is a big change from earlier in the season.
15 - @FCBarcelona attempted 15 shots in the first half against Sevilla (five on target), their best total in a first half of a game this season in all competitions and the best of any team in a first half in @LaLigaEN this season. Momentum. pic.twitter.com/zHRodZui5y— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 21, 2021
Tuesday’s match always promised to be a good barometer of where Xavi’s team are right now and they competed well against Julen Lopetegui’s side. Indeed the visitors will feel they ought to have gone on and won after Jules Kounde was sent off and but for the post they would have done.
Of course, familiar weaknesses in defense remain and need to be worked on, which Xavi acknowledged after the match, and the team still lacks a cutting edge in attack which is not surprising given the injury situation.
The return of Pedri and Ansu Fati in January will further strengthen the team that certainly looks to be heading into 2022 in the right direction. Xavi probably said it best after the full-time whistle, “Barca are built to win games, but we’re on the right path. This Barca is what I want.”
Set-pieces crucial at Sevilla
Barca had to come from behind at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium after Sevilla exploited the visitors’ weaknesses at set-pieces to open the scoring. It was a well-worked move that saw Papu Gomez leave Ez Abde and Ferran Jutgla trailing in his wake to fire home a precise shot.
The goalscorer admitted after the match it was something the team had planned before the game after watching videos of Barca.
Papu Gomez on his goal "Truth is we just thought of it this morning, we saw on videos they left a space there, and it went off perfectly!"— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) December 21, 2021
Ronald Araujo also admitted that Barca had “switched off a little” for the goal. They switched off again in the second half to allow Thomas Delaney another chance from a corner and it’s something that needs addressing going forward.
On the plus side of course, Barca did score from a set-piece to equalize. The Catalans netted from a corner for the second game in a row, following Ferran Jutgla’s header against Elche, with Dembele once again the supplier.
Changes coming as Busquets & Gavi pick up bans
Barca do get some time to rest now and Sergio Busquets and Gavi will get more than most after picking up one-match bans. Both players received their fifth yellow cards of the season and will sit out the trip to Real Mallorca on January 2.
The news is a bit of a blow but could actually be a good thing. Busquets has started every game for Barca so far this season and is overdue a rest. The captain’s absence also offers Xavi the chance to see how the team fares without the 33-year-old in the XI.
Gavi will also be forced to rest which can’t be bad news given how much he’s played this season for club and country. The 17-year-old plays with such intensity and desire you can’t help but wonder if he may need handling carefully in the second half of the season to avoid burnout.
He will be missed though after another influential display against Sevilla.
7 - @FCBarcelona's Gavi won seven fouls against Sevilla, equalling the most by a player in a single @LaLigaEN game this season (Real Sociedad's Adnan Januzaj against Mallorca in October). Brave. pic.twitter.com/6W7ObPg6xa— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 21, 2021
The absences are also good news for Nico and Riqui Puig who will both be hoping to start against Real Mallorca. There’s also a chance we could see Pedri back in a Barcelona shirt for the first time since September at San Moix.
Get Araujo signed up
Barcelona’s goal came from the head of Ronald Araujo and it was a brilliant effort from the Uruguay international who now has two for the season. The 22-year-old rose highest from Ousmane Dembele’s corner to direct his header past Bono just before half-time.
The goal further cements Araujo’s position as a key player for Barca. He played at right-back again versus Sevilla, not his best position, and one he may not have to play for much longer with Dani Alves available in January.
Talk of new contracts has focused on Gavi recently, and rightly so, but Barca should also move as quickly as possible to tie down Araujo. There’s been plenty of talk about Ferran Torres, Edinson Cavani and Erling Haaland but Araujo’s extension must be a priority.
A different Dembele under Xavi?
One player who didn’t score but set up the goal and looked Barca’s most dangerous player was Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman was a threat all night and was unlucky not to win it with a brilliant curling effort that smacked against the post.
Yet it was a different kind of performance from Dembele. The Frenchman appeared reluctant to use his explosive pace and instead regularly opted to come inside instead to good effect.
Impressive game from Ousmane Dembélé last night. Xavi is really trying to emphasise his ball-carrying to open up the pitch for Barça.— Jamie Kemp (@jamiemkemp) December 22, 2021
In 35 games since the start of last season, his two highest game totals for carry distance/progress have been his last two (v Elche + Sevilla). pic.twitter.com/6RWY3SfESn
Dembele’s decision-making is still frustrating at times but there’s no doubt he can be a difference-maker if he stays on past the end of the season. Xavi’s already made it clear he wants the Frenchman to continue at the Camp Nou and praised the forward again after the match.