The new line at Barcelona is that the team is playing well, but they just can’t seem to put away their chances.
In fact, they are dominating games.
By Barcelona standards, this may seem true. But it also may just be a blind spot.
Against Valencia, they did dominate possession, taking 65% of it. And they did create opportunities, 16 shots with 8 on target.
Meanwhile, with just 35% of the ball, and 4 shots on goal, Valencia produced just as much of what matters.
So where does Barcelona go from here?
I ask this question in the context of the season, but also in thinking about the future of the club.
The tiki-taka era came and went quickly. It was brilliant, poetic, and beautiful to witness. It also made Barcelona a perennial winner of titles.
I’ll never forget the day that for me it all came to an end in 2010, when Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan shocked Pep Guardiola, Barcelona, and the world.
Barcelona had 67% of the possession, and lost the game 3-1. You could see in live time that the rest of the world was figuring out how to use Barcelona’s strengths against them.
Sadly, it was, and still is difficult for Barcelona to look in the mirror, and question whether the way they play may be the problem, because it’s so rigid. If it’s part of your heritage, simply the “Barca Way,” then you can’t really call it into question, because it becomes a religion.
The Guardiola era was the dream of Johan Cruyff coming true. And Xavi was the next disciple in line.
But the thing is, when Xavi became manager, no one was asking him to get Barcelona back to playing in a way that was ever lost.
Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien didn’t revolutionize the play on the field, or take the team in a new direction. Quite the opposite, they lacked imagination. Like Xavi now, there are no original ideas.
When Xavi arrived, the club was simply in trouble. The ship was sinking, and they needed someone who could at least put a patch on the problems.
And that’s what he did. Relentless positivity from the beginning, he got his players to believe again, and the honeymoon lasted for a good while.
They even won La Liga. A massive accomplishment given the circumstances.
But it was more to do with Xavi’s management skills, than his football acumen as a coach.
Ultimately, I think he may be too dogmatic to take this team forward. He’s a young manager whose legendary playing career is still fresh in his mind. Unfortunately, like so many great players before him, he’s struggling to leave the past behind, and prove he can be a coach that not only evolves with the times, but changes the times he’s living in.
That’s not to say he’s been bad, or can’t improve.
But what he’s giving now, as reflected by the product on the field, isn’t good enough, and there aren’t signs of things changing soon.
Does he really believe that his team is good? Or are these the words of a coach who is running out of time, and doesn’t have a plan for fixing what’s in front of him?
It’s starting to look like the latter.
These players who are missing chances are his players. The ones he asked for.
That’s part of the job too.
Barcelona isn’t doing anything novel on the field that we haven’t seen not work before.
Most likely, Xavi will stay the course, and if his team really is playing to his standards, hope there is a self-correction, with results naturally starting to fall his way.
I think, in taking this path, it’s likely the team’s form will improve. But I doubt it will be enough to keep pace with Girona, let alone Real Madrid. I also am afraid we may be in for another Champions League letdown.
I’d be happy to eat my words.
I like Xavi as a manager. I love him as a Barca legend, and for his service to this great club.
I’ll be cheering on the turnaround. But in my heart, the cynic in me believes Barca won’t dominate anything again without significant change to the playing style.
And that’s where my doubts about Xavi start and end.