Barca still have a long way to go
Barcelona had made a fine start to the league season under Xavi but Sunday’s defeat highlighted the fact that the Catalans still have a fair way to go to knock Real Madrid off the top of the table.
Injuries have been one factor for Barca’s recent stumbles but there was still a big gap in quality between the two sides. Real Madrid took their chances and never looked for one moment as though they lacked belief.
8 - @realmadriden made 8 shots v Barcelona, their lowest tally in a win in #ElClásico in @LaLigaEN since 2003/04. In the other hand, #Barcelona registered their worst shot conversion rate in a single game this season in all competitions (5.56 - 1 goal min.). Momentum. pic.twitter.com/WVtmozPz3K— OptaJose (@OptaJose) October 16, 2022
Meanwhile, Barca had bags of possession but didn’t seem entirely sure what to do with it at times. Xavi still hasn’t quite got the balance of his team right and the old vulnerabilities were back again.
We all know that Barcelona are a work-in-progress and it showed here. Xavi’s side have undoubtedly made progress but now need to find their way out of a “negative dynamic” as the boss called it after the match.
There were still a few positives from the match. Jules Kounde returned from injury, Ansu Fati’s play for Barca’s goal was wonderful to watch, Ferran Torres’s strike should give the forward some much-needed confidence and Gavi provided real urgency after coming on.
Benzema outshines Lewandowski
El Clasico saw two of the world’s best strikers clash in Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski. Unfortunately for Barca, it was Benzema who was on the scoresheet and finished up on the winning side.
Lewandowski really should have scored but somehow managed to miss the sort of chance he usually gobbles up. There were gasps of anguish when he failed to find the target at the far post from Raphinha’s cross.
The striker made it pretty clear after the make he’s hurting.
It certainly wasn’t Lewandowski’s day but he kept going and will feel a little aggrieved he didn’t win a penalty after a shove from Dani Carvajal. It certainly seemed more of a spot-kick than the foul by Eric Garcia on Rodrygo but that seems to be the way things are going for Barca right now.
To make matters worse Benzema is set to pick up the Ballon d’Or on Monday. A trophy Lewandowski feels he should have won in 2020 only to see it cancelled because of the pandemic.
Barca’s defence crumbles
Barcelona headed into El Clasico with a rock-solid defense that had conceded just once in La Liga and had seen Marc-Andre ter Stegen go 636 minutes without conceding a goal in the Spanish top flight.
Yet the visitors’ defense crumbled even with the welcome return of Jules Kounde. Toni Kroos beat Sergio Busquets too easily for the first goal, Eric Garcia managed to deflect the ball to Vinicius for the second and then gave up a penalty for the third.
Ronald Araujo was badly missed and the need for a quality right-back showed. Xavi employed Sergi Roberto up against Vinicius Junior which had most culers fretting before the game had even kicked off.
Barca’s defence will improve when the injuries clear up but it’s still baffling Xavi has three left-backs in his squad and still lacks a top quality option on the opposite flank.
Bad week for Busquets
The defeat to Real Madrid capped a bad week for Barcelona and a particularly poor seven days for club captain Sergio Busquets. The midfielder was guilty of an error against Inter and was at fault again in El Clasico.
Xavi had backed Busquets before the match and insisted he remains an important player for the Catalans, but it will be interesting to see how he uses the 34-year-old for the rest of the campaign.
His status as an undisputed starter is very much under scrutiny right now and it’s not like Xavi lacks for options when it comes to his midfield.
All eyes will be on Xavi’s teamsheet for Barcelona’s next game against Villarreal and it would be no surprise to see Busquets benched.
Xavi’s unhappy half-century
Sunday’s defeat coupled with the midweek draw to Inter in the Champions League means that Xavi is, rightly or wrongly, coming under pressure as Barcelona manager.
The coach was happy to take the blame for the result after the match but also made it clear once again that his is very much still a team in construction.
All of which is true but you suspect Barca won’t have infinite reserves of patience with Xavi despite his status as a club legend. The club backed him heavily in the summer and Joan Laporta is already talking about the possibility of more signings in January.
50 games— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 16, 2022
Xavi’s 56% win rate is the worst of any Barça coach with 50+ games since in 2001 pic.twitter.com/IGTl6sFvBH
The Clasico was Xavi’s 50th match in charge of Barcelona and in that time he has won 28, drawn 11, and suffered 11 defeats. The stats show it’s the worst record of any coach for 20 years.
Laporta also publicly backed Xavi ahead of the game and talk of the sack is more than a little premature. However, Xavi will know he needs to get his team back to winning ways as quickly as possible, starting on Thursday against Villarreal.