Yes, this was only the first game of the season for Barcelona, but it illuminated an inconvenient truth that Xavi can’t ignore.
It will be very difficult to replace the quality of Frenkie de Jong in the midfield if the club finds a way to sell him.
Gavi had a breakout season while Pedri was injured, but the two of them have yet to prove they can complement one another.
Frankly, Gavi has looked lost while playing with Pedri, not knowing where to be and how best to contribute, especially when the team is in possession.
His strength is off the ball, and on the defensive end in particular. He adds toughness that Barcelona has been lacking, and is very smart and determined in the high press, and will win balls for you in the midfield. This is a massive quality that also translates to being effective in the final third, where he has been good at creating opportunities and scoring goals.
But this is Barcelona, and what’s really needed is a technical midfielder. Someone who can help play out of the back, and penetrate through the midfield. Gavi, who is still very young, is not that player, and it will take time to see whether he can develop into it.
Frenkie is exactly that guy. It’s why he was brought to Barcelona to begin with, and it’s in his DNA as someone who came of age at Ajax.
There were two big problems against Rayo Vallecano, if we can ignore the time wasting and the poor game management of the referee. These are two things that Xavi and Barcelona are directly responsible for.
The first one is obvious, and hopefully it was a reality check for Xavi, and that’s the right full-back situation. Xavi has been naïve to believe that Ronald Araujo was a solution, and as a tactician who has otherwise structured the team so well, it’s surprising that he’s been so harsh with Sergino Dest, who in my mind is still the best option available.
But the second problem is his perception of Frenkie de Jong as someone who is replaceable. Xavi got burned for this on Saturday, and ended up with a disjointed midfield that couldn’t establish control of the game, and in my opinion is the primary reason the team couldn’t score a goal and pull out the win.
Frenkie de Jong’s presence in the second half made Barcelona look like a total different team. When he was on the field, it was the only time Rayo Vallecano looked unsettled, and Barcelona looked truly dangerous because the pace of the game picked up.
Xavi needs to look himself in the mirror the way all good coaches do. He deserves credit for standing up for Ousmane Dembele when others were ready to throw him out, and as a result he will be the one reaping the benefits as a coach.
Now he needs to reflect on his opinion of Frenkie and ask himself if he’s been wrong all along, because the evidence shows he was never enamored with him.
If you look back to last Spring, there were curious examples of Xavi dropping Frenkie for Gavi in the starting lineup, or substituting him out at conspicuous moments in critical games.
Every time Frenkie was doubted, he responded by showing how much better the team is with him in it.
Let’s not forget that he came to the club while Josep Bartomeu’s time as president was imploding, and the team was entering its darkest years in recent history.
How much worse could things have been without a player like Frenkie?
He’s played whatever position you ask of him, and has been reliable. He’s never complained about not being given the chance to play where he’s most comfortable because he knows club legend Sergio Busquets is there.
Speaking of Busquets and that red card, wouldn’t it be great to know that you have a certain Dutchman who can jump in when your pivot is out, and perhaps even be a replacement when his time at the club is done at the end of this season?
Frenkie has stood by the club when it was at its lowest, and even deferred his wages as a show of his commitment. Now he wants to continue on and bring Barcelona back to the top where it belongs.
Xavi needs to work his magic behind the scenes, and bring Frenkie together with Joan Laporta and find a resolution that both sides can live with.
Barcelona announced they are all in this summer on winning, and have risked so much financially in order to do so.
In order for this to pay off, they need to take a sober look at who the best players are who can help them achieve their goals now. I’m submitting right here that Frenkie in his prime is a wiser choice than an 18-year-old who still has a lot to prove.
Letting him leave could come back around to haunt them.
Instead, let’s recognize and appreciate a world class, one of a kind talent when we have one.
Frenkie loves Barcelona, and Barcelona needs Frenkie.
This one is an easy call.