The sign of a good manager, especially a young one, is to admit his mistakes, and make changes while there’s still a chance to win the game.
Against Elche, Xavi got it wrong with his decision to play Gavi on the wing.
Just because it worked before when you had no other options, doesn’t mean it’s the right choice under normal circumstances.
Having Gavi out wide threw the whole team out of balance. It limited what Ousmane Dembele could do on the right side, while offering no attacking threat on the left.
An unintended, but no unrelated consequence, was one of the worst games we’ve seen from Pedri in a Barcelona shirt. The young Spaniard looked frustrated, and made uncharacteristic mistakes on the ball that cost the team.
Xavi should raise his hand, and make sure that Gavi and Pedri don’t take their poor performances personally. He needs to take the blame, and make sure they keep their heads held high.
Knowing Xavi, that’s probably exactly what he did.
But the second half was an entirely different story. And the turnaround happened because the young manager didn’t hesitate to make changes.
Swapping Gavi for Ferran Torres gave the system its integrity again.
That’s the lesson of this game. Put the system above the talent.
Gavi and Pedri may be incredibly talented, but you can’t force them into the lineup if they don’t fit. Knowing a position matters, and with it comes a specific skill set that shouldn’t be discounted.
Xavi knows this. One of the first things he emphasized was the importance of true wingers to make the tactics work to their full potential.
Ferran’s presence opened up the game. The team looked more dangerous instantly, and it worked to success without pause the entire second half.
Dropping Ferran from the starting lineup was the right call, and it was overdue. He needed a wake up call, and looked more motivated than ever to prove himself as soon as he came on.
The better choice would have been to start Adama Traore or Memphis Depay, both of whom are growing in confidence.
The last five Barcelona goals were all scored by substitutes. That’s an encouraging sign of a team that’s becoming resilient.
Xavi has options, and he should be proactive with them when things aren’t going his way.
Hopefully he learned that it’s ok for Pedri, Gavi, Frenkie de Jong, and Sergio Busquets to rotate.
There are plenty of forwards who are a natural fit, and offer unique skill sets when he needs them.
Memphis is now making a case of his own on his preferred left side of the field. And soon it will be Ansu Fati as well.
Play the ones who are showing the best form, and then rotate them when things start to slip.
But above all else, don’t compromise the system you’re putting into place.
This should continue to be a team without stars. That’s the way forward in the post Messi era. No Galacticos at the Camp Nou.
Against Elche, Xavi showed he can be self-critical, admit his mistakes, and trust his players to get things back on track, and fight until the end.
That’s exciting, because that strength of character has been missing for so long.
There’s nothing more inspiring than grit and determination.
This Barcelona team is showing what it’s made of.