At a club like Barcelona it’s hard to stay motivated when trophies are no longer on the line.
Real Madrid have an insurmountable lead at the top of the table. Barcelona are out of Europe. Culers watched on as Real Betis earned a feel-good Copa del Rey title.
Since Xavi’s arrival, the main goal was to earn a top-four finish. Even after shocking home defeats to Cadiz and Rayo Vallecano, Barcelona are still in second place. Six points are protecting them from missing a place in the Champions League.
With five games to go in La Liga, this team looks comfortable with where they stand, maybe too comfortable.
A victim of their own success after flying up the table for months.
Xavi has already exceeded the world’s expectations. It’s essentially mission accomplished, barring a total collapse down the stretch.
But that’s the thing about expectations. They’re not stagnant. People never stop wanting more.
Being knocked out of the Europa League was a problem because that was the only prize left to fight for. Say what you want, but a trophy in any competition is still a trophy. It’s what Barcelona live for.
With that taken away, what’s left to motivate these Barcelona players?
Xavi will want them to believe that winning every game for the sake of it is it’s own prize.
But in reality everyone will be looking to the future now.
Pedri is out for the season.
Two of the best remaining players in Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong will shift their focus to planning their next moves.
It will be hard to conjure up intensity and a killer instinct unless the race for the top four becomes close again. For Barcelona, losing one more game will accomplish just that.
But the person with the most thinking to do is Xavi.
Soon, he will earn the relief of knowing he did what he came here to do in his first season, but it will be an anti-climax.
He will have done it depending on players who may not be at the Camp Nou next year, and the players he is stuck with are supporting actors at best.
Even Ronald Koeman won a trophy in his first season. Next year, Xavi will be expected to win silverware too.
He won’t want to get too far ahead of himself now, but surely his mind will be on fortifying his army this summer.
It seems like he counts on Dembele more than anyone else at the moment. Maybe now is the time, behind the scenes, to start campaigning for all parties to reach a renewal.
If that falls through, it will be back to square one.
Pray that Pedri gets and stays healthy, and find new pieces to build around him. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past few games, it’s that this team is not the same without the young prodigy.
With five games to go, what should Barcelona aim for now?
Maybe it’s a good time to experiment with new tactics and formations. Give players a chance who have been sidelined. See who rises to the top.
One thing’s for sure, the formula that brought this team success is now looking stale.
Give Adama Traore, who was the spark that started the fire, a chance to audition for a place in the team next year.
Memphis Depay also deserves a bigger role to see if he can work his way into Xavi’s plans.
For me, it was disappointing to see Nico chosen over Riqui Puig against Rayo Vallecano when a late goal was needed. But why not give them both an opportunity to compete for their future careers at Barcelona?
Xavi has done enough to give himself space to experiment. It might even be what the moment requires.
With so little left to play for, the best thing to do is to challenge the players to compete with one another.
The future at the club continues to be uncertain, but there is so much potential on the roster.
I’d like to see as much of it as possible in action going forward.
And for the manager, it could be an invaluable opportunity to collect data.
Information that could help inform critical decisions that must be made over the summer.
Decisions that could make or break Xavi’s tenure as manager.
Time to look to the future.