If there’s one thing Xavi understands better than anyone about Barcelona, it’s embracing the pressure that comes with expectation of winning, and doing so by playing attractive football.
The club could have gone down several paths to make their way back to the top. In the end, they took a risk and chose the short cut, something that was made possible because of the demands of their new manager who insisted his team fight for everything, and didn’t accept excuses.
Keep in mind, Xavi was not Joan Laporta’s first choice as manager. The biggest concern was his inexperience. So when the young coach came in, he had to inspire confidence from the club’s leadership in order to earn the backing that he’s received in the last two transfer windows.
He had to show he had a plan, and the determination to see the project through. This Barcelona team under Xavi, even when it lacked the talent early on due to injuries and a sell-off the summer before of its two most valuable assets, had a clear structure and style of play.
It didn’t take long for the contagion of the manager’s relentless high expectations to spread. Even though it took time for the performances on the field to result in a consistent run of results, the club was ambitious on the market and found a way to bring in the players that Xavi asked for.
That pattern continued over the summer. Xavi has the trust of the club and the fanbase, and he has been given control of the sporting project completely.
He has put in the time to analyze the needs of his system, and has been the primary scout and recruiter to get players he’s identified to sign on the dotted line. Not for money, but because he’s getting them to fall in love with football again, and the idea of making history by bringing a storied club back to glory.
There’s still time before the transfer deadline to strengthen the team around the edges, and to hopefully focus on outgoing players to help get the finances in order.
But the squad is starting to take shape, and it has the talent to compete with anyone in Europe. After a full preseason of training under their new manager, they have a clean slate and a chance to prove they really are back.
But what are realistic expectations in Xavi’s first full season as manager?
If you asked him, he’d probably say that the first objective is to dethrone Real Madrid and win La Liga. From what we saw in the last two Clasicos, Barcelona is on the same level as their rival, and with the new summer arrivals, probably better up and down the roster, especially when you consider the depth that Barcelona has at most positions.
One of the most intriguing head to heads will be the Karim Benzema versus Robert Lewandowski battle for the Pichichi. The Frenchman was the main man behind Real Madrid’s recent success, but Barca has countered them by bringing in the best center forward in the world.
Both teams have made significant improvements to their defensive lines, but with the arrival of Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen, Barcelona may have the advantage now.
The midfield is another intriguing comparison, with Barca’s young lineup led by Pedri, against the veteran savvy of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and company.
In the end, the better team on the season will come out on top, and it will be a domestic race you can’t turn away from.
But the Champions League will be the ultimate measure of how far Barcelona has come under Xavi.
There were warning signs in the competition that the Blaugrana had lost their mojo even before things fell apart for the club during the pandemic, but if the Catalan giants are really back they will have to prove it on football’s biggest stage.
That means a deep run to the quarterfinals at a minimum, and strong performances regardless of the ultimate outcome.
You can throw in the Copa del Rey as well. Every trophy is up for grabs, and Barcelona has the ability to rotate players, and give everyone an opportunity to earn minutes and contribute to the success.
The World Cup in November could be one of the biggest challenges for Xavi to manage around. Most of his players will be participating, so managing minutes, and keeping everyone motivated and focused on the job at hand will be no easy task.
But at the end of the day, this Barcelona team is in a strong position. They have signaled to the world that they are not going to sit idly by and allow themselves to become a second rate team.
Because the only acceptable expectation at a club like this is to win trophies, and that’s what they intend to do.
Bring on the pressure. Xavi thrives under it and has accepted the responsibility.
And after an exciting summer of winning on the transfer market, it’s time for that success to translate on the field.
Barca fans have permission to be excited and proud again. This is a season to enjoy.