Since arriving at Barcelona last October, Xavi has navigated stormy waters.
The Blaugrana had just been knocked out of the Champions League, and were tumbling down the table.
Real concerns were setting in that the bad situation could turn into a catastrophe. Xavi had to bring stability, and the mission was to finish in the top four at any cost.
Xavi all but accomplished the goal after going on a tear in February and March.
As is often the case in La Liga, he was assisted by the lack of consistency from other teams at the top of the table, and the fact that Joan Laporta and Mateo Alemany executed a masterful winter transfer window that gave the team an advantage over their opponents.
Real Sociedad did their traditional disappearing act. Rayo Vallecano went into freefall. The race for Champions League qualification quickly became a contest of five teams for four spots.
The excitement about the “turnaround” was never about the possibility of winning trophies, although in the end it stung more than expected to be knocked out of the Europa League.
It wasn’t even about wins and losses. In fact, Ronald Koeman, under arguably more difficult circumstances, had a record similar to Xavi’s.
It was about who they were beating. Proving they could compete with the best again.
Although it wasn’t all his fault, the Koeman era will be remembered by many for its fatalism. Not just for losing to the other European giants every time, but for shrugging it off as just how things are now.
Xavi refused to accept that. He saw what was obvious to the rest of us. Barcelona are full of world-class talent, so the challenge was not so much a footballing one, but overcoming the mental demons that were paralyzing his players.
But that’s the thing about trauma. Just when you think it’s gone, it can reappear with authority.
And many players on this team still carry it.
That’s why defeating Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, and Sevilla wasn’t just a big deal. It was a confidence injection. A boost of adrenaline that catapulted the team from the doldrums.
But now it’s back to reality. Getting a result against Mallorca was positive, but performances are what’s needed with four games to go.
Against Betis, there isn’t much external motivation. They currently sit in fifth place, and are doing themselves no favors by dropping points, relieving pressure from Xavi and his men.
But this is an opportunity to knock off another big, well-coached, Spanish rival. They are the Copa del Rey champions, and will be treating every match like a final in an effort to climb one more position in the table.
Xavi isn’t kidding when he says Barcelona need to fight as well to make sure they finish in second place.
You don’t get a trophy for that, but he understands the importance of building and maintaining the winning mindset that next season’s fortunes will rest on.
So this Saturday should be seen as a final by the Barcelona players. Their last final of the season if they take care of business, and their last chance to show the progress they’re making to the rest of the world.
The hard times are still here. They’re not going away anytime soon.
When you’ve been knocked off your throne, the only way to get it back is by force.
Barcelona need to get their attitude back heading into a consequential summer.
No better place to prove themselves than the hostile coliseum of the Benito Villamarin.
The fans will be rocking, and Barca need to put on a show.