Now would be a great time to get hot if you’re Barcelona.
On Sunday, Adama Traore and Dani Alves were the spark at the Camp Nou in a dominant performance over top four rivals Atletico Madrid.
They weren’t alone, but they deserve the first shout-outs for what their skill and creativity add to the system Xavi is trying to construct.
Adama is a rampaging winger who epitomizes what it means to play vertically. Ousmane Dembele could become even more dangerous if he modeled his game in the same way. Less cutting in and more beating defenders to the goal line.
The Frenchman will be called upon at some point, and when he is, it would be powerful to see him provide the same threat on the left side.
But Dani Alves was the true heart and soul on Sunday.
A man who personifies joga bonito.
An otherworldly understanding of the game. An artist who makes it up as he goes. A fearless instinct to take risks, break the rules, and find a way to unlock defensive lines.
The Brazilian reminds the team, and fans alike, what Barcelona greatness looks like.
To have fun, dominate the ball, and not be afraid.
For his efforts, a goal, an assist, and a red card. By the time he made the mistake, however, Alves had already instilled so much belief in his teammates, and so much doubt in the opponents, that the result was never in question.
The only person with a right to complain is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had the bad timing of making his debut while his team was down a man.
He didn’t sulk, however. The 32-year-old put his head down and got to pressing. And after that, he inserted himself into the build up. And once his team established possession, he showed his ability to make smart runs, and open up the game with a quality pass.
Ferran Torres is the big mystery. In this game, we saw him start as the false nine, and then move out to the wing once Aubameyang was introduced.
He hasn’t been a focal point of the attack, but he did put in a hardworking 90 minute shift, highlighted by solid hold up play, runs off the ball, and intelligent defending.
It will be interesting to track his progress as Xavi searches for the best role to play him in.
For me, however, the man of the match was Gavi.
It’s certainly not ideal to play him on the wing, but the young Spaniard looks determined to make himself indispensable by giving 150% no matter where you play him, while leaving his fingerprints all over the field.
Cynics will ask everyone to pump the brakes. Atletico Madrid has seen a dramatic drop in form. Xavi was right to ask everyone to remain humble.
Nonetheless, the February fixtures are vital and tough. Barcelona needed an emphatic performance to jump start the campaign after a dispiriting month of January.
This is a new-look Barcelona, and they have the tools to play at a high level consistently.
Now is not the time for false optimism. There are big challenges ahead, and preparation will be key.
So back to the training ground, there’s work to do.
I have a feeling for the first time, however, it won’t feel like work for Xavi.
He has new toys, and a lot of options.
Should be fun to see what he does with them.