There are new kings in the northeast of Spain. Girona is no accident. Their aim is the Spanish throne.
On Sunday, they marched down to Barcelona, took down the giants, and put the country on alert that they are on a mission to win a title.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid dropped more points against a spirited Real Betis. That leaves Girona two points clear at the top of the table through 16 games.
Barcelona have some soul searching to do.
They were the more talented team on the day, but they didn’t know how they wanted to play. This is a team experiencing an identity crisis, while Girona knows exactly who they are.
Statically, Barcelona had an eye-popping 31 shots, 11 of which were on target. Several of which were missed from point blank range.
Girona, meanwhile, were efficient with their chances. 15 shots, 7 on target, and 4 goals.
Now, several of Girona’s goals came from elementary defensive mistakes. But that’s what happens when you play with confidence, and frustrate your opponent, who for everything they are producing, looks like they are are doing so by brute force, and not because of the intention of their ideas.
The Girona players trust one another. Even when Barcelona flexed their talent, the number one team in Spain didn’t panic. They stayed cool, stayed organized, and struck at the moment of the opportunity. They made it look easy.
Daley Blind and Eric Garcia looked excellent, easily shutting down the toothless Blaugrana forwards.
The Barcelona defenders, on the other, didn’t respect their opponents. They lacked focus, and looked impatient, and they were made to pay for it.
Time is starting to run out for Xavi, who may have already done the best he could do with the hand he was dealt, and with the ability he currently has as a young manager.
Barcelona looks like a perfectly above average Spanish team. But not one who’s ready to compete with the best in Europe.
With the players they have, you have to believe that more is possible. If Girona can play as well as they are, why not Barcelona?
The positive vibes were critical to stabilizing the club two years ago when Xavi arrived. But the party is over. Now, it comes down to having a vision for the football that can be built on, and improved over time. Sadly, the team continues to regress, calling into question whether there was ever a coherent strategy to begin with.
Let this be a wake up call. For the manager, and the players alike.
This winter transfer window will be difficult. Barcelona may not have a lot of cards they can play.
But they still do have a lot to play for.
Just seven points behind in the domestic table, crazier things have happened.
Importantly, there will be a big opportunity in the Champions League.
Xavi has earned the right to continue on, likely until the end of this season. Beyond that, he has to prove he has real solutions that we can see for our own eyes on the field.
It’ll be an uphill climb though. Some creative maneuvering may be needed to bring in fresh blood for the second half of the season.
Vitor Roque for one will have a golden opportunity to stake his claim. Add another player or two, if you can also offload one or two, and maybe that’ll unfreeze what’s paralyzing the play at the moment.
One player won’t be enough to solve the puzzle. It’s a team wide issue. There needs to be an idea the team can believe in and rally around.
Something that allows these Barca players to feel as free as their Girona counterparts.
And that can only come from the manager.
Let’s see what Xavi does with the time he has remaining on the clock.