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Barcelona’s first title without Lionel Messi in 23 years represents a new era

What comes next?

Athletic de Bilbao v FC Barcelona - Spanish Copa del Rey Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

FC Barcelona defeated Real Madrid in order to win the Supercopa de España, the first title for Xavi as manager, and the club’s first in two seasons.

Not only was this the first title Barcelona had won since Lionel Messi left, it was the first they had won in more than 23 years - dating back to their capture of La Liga in the summer of 1999.

The next time they’d pick up a trophy, in 2005, Messi was there. Sure, he was just a youngster then, but it was the start of the Messi era. The club’s greatest era, to be sure, but it’s now truly over.

Now, Barcelona turn the page. This season is far from a resounding success, of course. Losing out in the groups of the UEFA Champions League is simply unacceptable for a team with this kind of reputation. And even progressing in the UEFA Europa League looks unsure now that Manchester United are back to their best.

Still, it’s a team that has picked up a trophy already, is first in La Liga, and has every chance to win the Copa del Rey. The club invested a lot in players over the summer, and getting something out of this season is huge for the future of the club.

The win was great not just because it gave a trophy, but because it was domination against a high quality opponent. Sure, Barcelona have won big against Madrid with Xavi at the helm before, but big wins have not come that often, either.

Marc-André ter Stegen looks sharper than he has in a bit, perhaps fully recovering from bothersome injuries. Sergio Busquets played a great game, even as his career is clearly on the wane.

Jules Koundé, Ronald Araujo, and Andreas Christensen did very, very well in defense. That gives Xavi a bit of a selection problem long term, as that’s three centerbacks for only two spots in his current system. But putting one on the right as a fullback has produced good results, and at the very least the central defender spot looks secured for the future.

Robert Lewandowski once again showed that he’s hungry for titles and that he’s the right kind of veteran this young team needs to inspire them. And Frenkie de Jong looked comfortable in his position, able to get forward and contribute in attack as well as cover and help in buildup further back.

But of course, this match was all about the young guns. Gavi had his best game possibly ever, Pedri is still a gem, and Alejandro Balde showed why a Barcelona player could win the Golden Boy award for the third straight time.

Looking forward, Barcelona still needs to improve in key areas and sort out lingering questions. Certain areas still need to be improved, and the team isn’t exactly flush with cash, either.

They need to identify a right-back they see as a permanent starter, figure out what to do with underperforming forwards, and sort out the midfield selection.

Still, this was a very necessary step forward in what has been a sometimes arduous multi-year rebuilding process.

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