All isn’t lost this season, although it certainly feels like it after a devastating week.
Now is the time to do some serious reflection on how we got to this point.
Since his arrival, Xavi hasn’t shied away from taking on the responsibility that comes with the power of being Barcelona boss in the time of a crisis.
His greatest attributes have been his contagious sense of confidence and relentless positivity, instilling belief in the fanbase and Barca board alike that he can lead the team back to the top now.
In the transfer market, he has been backed completely.
Joan Laporta and Mateu Alemany, who shouldn’t escape criticism here either, fought to bring in everyone he asked for, and got rid of the ones he was adamant about leaving.
Xavi’s leadership qualities should be commended. Barcelona desperately needed to believe in themselves, and up until now, they have.
The coach’s tactical decisions, however, are under serious scrutiny now. Surprisingly, that’s the area where many people expected the most, with comparisons to Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique, and where many present and past players have praised him, especially in comparison to his predecessor.
At the center of the on the field issues, especially in the most important games over the past month, is Sergio Busquets.
Xavi has shown tough love to other Barca legends, and former teammates, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba.
We were to believe that he would give the same treatment to Sergi Roberto, but instead of telling him to move on, and insisting that the club not renew his contract, Xavi kept him around, while forcefully sending away the young Sergino Dest, who still had the potential to improve under his tutelage.
Why has it been so hard for Barcelona to leave the past behind?
For one, it was the contracts that Josep Bartomeu handed out to the sacred cows.
But if the administration is so willing to put pressure on Frenkie de Jong, Ousmane Dembele, and others to dramatically restructure their contracts, and more than happy to put serious heat on others to find a new club, why couldn’t they have done the same with Busquets?
Because Xavi counts on him to be at the center of his team.
He called on him again against Real Madrid, even after he was directly responsible for why Barca were effectively knocked out of the Champions League by Inter Milan.
Xavi, like many managers before him, have become Busquets dependent to the detriment of the team.
Like Messi before him, Busquets gives you a false sense of security that everything is ok.
Barcelona are in control most of the time with Busquets at the center of the field. He is the first one to bring the ball out of the back, the one who controls the rhythm, and the one to find the breakthrough.
Except for one big glaring problem that has been flashing for the last half decade. Sergio Busquets has always been on the field in the many instances of abject failure in the biggest games on the world’s stage.
For every humiliation, Busquets, Pique, Jordi Alba, and Sergi Roberto were there, staring at the ground in shame.
The 8-2 against Bayern Munich was supposed to be the wake up call.
The captains even volunteered to be the first ones to step away if asked.
Maybe Ronald Koeman should have listened. Maybe Xavi should have stepped in and had the courage to do the same, but in the case of Busquets, no one, not even Luis Enrique with the Spanish national team, have seen that for all of his singular brilliance, the Spaniard may be a relic of the past that is holding back their teams now.
Sergio Busquets is in the last year of his contract, so at least there’s an exit ramp, and if Xavi does the right thing and makes him part of the rotation, rather than an undroppable, we’ll be able to enjoy and appreciate him with the time he has left in blaugrana colors.
But if he continues to stick with Busquets game after game, things could get ugly, with many culers starting to turn on the manager and player.
With all the drama around Frenkie de Jong in the summer, and Xavi being willing to let him leave for the right price, maybe he should have been prioritizing finding a way to restructure the team in a way that made them less dependent on Sergio Busquets.
With the free signing of Franck Kessie, and Nico also around, there were in-house options to experiment with.
Instead, Xavi spent the preseason using Frenkie as a center-back (which could have come in handy this week), and the beginning of this season marginalizing Kessie completely.
Anyone else think this style of 4-3-3 is getting stale?
It wouldn’t be a huge jump to try a 4-2-3-1 with Frenkie and Franck as double pivots, and Pedri or Gavi in the 10. Heck, Gavi could even play outside on the wing, which would allow for overlapping full-backs like Alejandro Balde.
You could go really crazy and try a 3-4-3 if the center-backs were still healthy. There’s a lot of tactical flexibility there with who you choose as the inverted wingers. Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati are built for it. Gavi and Pedri could also give it a try.
The frustrating part as a fan is seeing that the more things change the more they stay the same.
Same faces, same formation, and more or less, the same predictable tactics.
Xavi deserves the pressure he is feeling now.
He asked for this when he knew Barca was selling itself off to finance the ability to win trophies this season.
This team was built to beat the Bayern Munichs and Real Madrids of the world. It certainly should have a big advantage over the Inter Milans.
There is still time to pivot away from Busquets, and steer the team into a new direction that puts them in a position to compete for the Liga, the Copa, and a European title, even if it’s not the one we all wanted.
Xavi deserves an opportunity to ride through this storm and show he can learn, and turn around the team. Mikel Arteta with Arsenal is an example of what can happen when a club shows patience. Unlike Arsenal, however, Xavi doesn’t have so much time on his side given the circumstances at Barcelona.
He needs to show he can adapt when things aren’t working.
So far, he hasn’t.
Against Villarreal on Thursday, one thing is for sure, Sergio Busquets cannot be in the starting eleven.
The future starts now, and he isn’t a part of it one way or another.