A perfect storm of injuries, controversial refs and dubious decisions from Xavi have pushed Barca to the brink of another early Champions League exit -- but surely it won't happen again. Surely this is a different team with a different mentality, a coach that inspires belief and who has a good mix of experience and potentially world class young talent at his disposal. But perhaps that mix isn't good enough yet for continental football.
Injuries aside, Xavi has made the same brain fart for the two big games of the season so far: Marcos Alonso.
Alex Balde is ready, he deserves a proper chance but only got 27 minutes out of 180. You could argue Alonso's defensive awareness is better, but then his lack of speed generally cancels that out and we're left with a lumbering figure who's technically okay and might score some goals but won't generate much attacking impetus. Our fullbacks need to provide width and speed, link up effectively with the wing forward (again, at speed or with urgency) and whip in dangerous crosses/cutbacks. Balde can do that far better than Alonso who shouldn't be anywhere near the starting XI for big games unless he's the last available option or Xavi figures out how to implement his 3-4-3 (and even then, Balde can learn to become an effective wingback easily).
Raphinha at LW didn't work against Inter either. When it does work, switching wingers gives you a dynamism that in an ideal world is just part of an implementation of total football: everyone should be able to play everywhere. Despite all the hype in the modern game, modern players aren't as adaptable as they should be. This isn't a particular slight on Raph though, Xavi should know this. Continuing this experiment in a must-not-lose game was perhaps foolish.
Xavi's general tactics are questionable too. Based on the games against Rayo and now Inter, the team can't pass its way around or through a well organized low block. Their movement is too static and the passing is too slow. Of course the players deserve a lot of blame too, after all they're the ones on the pitch. Familiar tropes, but on balance, not nearly as bad as previous years.
In reality it's also still early days in the season, even as October shapes up to be pivotal in defining the rest of Barca's season and possibly Xavi's career. Through circumstances that are partly his doing, partly out of his control, he finds himself at the helm of a ship that looks like it might sink in European waters once again, with the clasico thrown in for good measure. Could this be the remaking of a legend in the image of his mentor who went from midfield maestro to tactical genius, or are we about to witness the beginning of his end?