First and foremost, congratulations to Xavi and his men for turning around the team, and qualifying for the Champions League.
The dark cloud has passed away, and Barcelona are back where they belong.
What Xavi has done was an honorable act of service to the club he loves. This was not a desirable job when he took it. No glory to be won. It was a rescue operation to give the team life again.
This week, however, has highlighted the uncertainties ahead.
Whether Xavi can continue to move the team forward will be measured by trophies next season. That means seriously competing for a domestic title.
Being back in the Champions League won’t be enough. Barcelona will be expected to prove they are still among the elite clubs in Europe, and that will require a run to the quarter-finals at least.
In order to be competitive at that level again, Xavi will need to take a critical look at what he envisions for the future.
The last month has been lackluster. Much of the game against Betis was the same.
One thing we’ve learned is that the guys he depended on to make a rally early in the year won’t be the same guys he rides with going forward.
Among the forwards, Ferran Torres is the only building block of the future who has been healthy lately. Xavi is trying to will greatness out of him, but from what we’ve seen, he’s likely to be a role player at best.
Combine that with his other favorite player, Ousmane Dembele, and it’s not clear what the future will look like up front.
In fact, it looks like heading into the summer it’s either back to square one, or hope the core that is currently in place will be good enough to achieve sustained success in multiple competitions over the course of a long season.
Real Madrid are the measuring stick, and they have shown how resilient they will continue to be.
Watching a mediocre, yet resilient, Barca again on Saturday, and comparing that to what we saw from their rivals midweek, was an illuminating juxtaposition.
I hope that the late game dramatics are a sign of things to come. Championship winning teams, like Real Madrid, are capable of a comeback whenever the circumstances call for it. Winners never give up until the final whistle, and truly believe anything is possible in their souls.
It’s clear the return to greatness for Barca will require Ansu Fati and Pedri to be healthy. This season has cast doubt over that, so finding ways to be less dependent on them will be essential.
Hopefully Xavi sees that he can’t build his team around Ferran Torres up front. In this game, it made sense to ride the hot hand of Memphis Depay, but I’ve seen enough of Ferran up the middle to conclude it doesn’t bring out the best in him. I believe strongly that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the best option in that position, even when his form has dipped, and it’s reassuring to know he’ll be back for one more year.
I don’t understand why it’s taken Xavi so long to give Memphis, Adama Traore, and Riqui Puig more chances. Adama and Riqui were rusty when they came on, but still were able to impact the game by opening the field, and progressing the attack.
Dembele and Ferran should have been rotated more, but Xavi may be signaling to the club that these are the two he wants next season. Ferran, for better or for worse, is locked in for the long term as an expensive investment, and Dembele could be next up.
Adama and Memphis are the odd men out, and Xavi is managing them in that way.
Forgive me for having a hard time being excited in spite of Xavi’s important accomplishment and contribution to the future of the club.
It’s just that, with the season winding down, there are so many questions. So many possible paths forward. We will all be hoping there are no more wrong turns.
And yet, once again, Ansu Fati was a bright light that cuts through cynicism.
He reminded the fans, once again, that like Lionel Messi before him, Ansu is the type of player who will find you a goal when you need it most.
Barcelona needs a player like that to inspire confidence.
So let’s all celebrate a job well done.
Nothing is promised tomorrow, but with Xavi in charge, and Joan Laporta showing signs of steady leadership, we should rest easy and have faith.
For the time being at least…
Because nothing short of greatness will ever be good enough in Barcelona.
Next season can’t come soon enough so the team can prove they’re ready to embrace the pressure and become champions again.