As the calendar turns to 2024, Barcelona will be looking for a clean slate.
The year ended with the Catalan giants going in the wrong direction. Was it simply bad form that will self-correct with time, or are there deeper problems to address?
It’s good practice to focus on the things that you have control over. But therein lies the analytical challenge. Should Barca operate with a lighter touch, or is bigger change required in the short term?
Heading into the transfer window, Joan Laporta and company will have important decisions to make.
Here’s my wish list.
Find someone who can score goals
In an ideal world, a goal scorer is already on the roster, just waiting to reveal themselves.
All eyes will be on Vitor Roque, who has already arrived in Barcelona, and will be hoping to make an impact quickly, if given the chance by Xavi.
It’s been said that Barcelona wants to take a gradual approach with the Brazilian, so he can learn from Robert Lewandowski, and grow in the role over time.
But with the former untouchable Polish superstar now coming under scrutiny, Roque has a chance to seize the job as Barca’s number one on the depth chart.
The Pichichi race isn’t looking competitive for Barcelona for the first time in a long time. I wouldn’t put it past Lewandowski to turn things around, and to do so in a commanding fashion, but that would also require the team to do more to get him involved in and around the box.
Roque doesn’t have to play as a number nine. He is quick and versatile, so could also put in a shift on the wing.
With Ferran Torres and Raphinha in particular continuing to struggle to prove themselves in front of goal, more will be asked of the other forwards. More goals and more assists, from just about everyone, is a requirement if Barcelona is to fight their way back into the race for the Spanish crown.
Generate control and creativity from the midfield
And that’s a nice segway into another important question.
Will Barcelona be able to play the way that Xavi wants them to play? To use possession as a tool for creating dangerous attacking opportunities.
Right now, Barca wants to play with the ball, but it hasn’t made them a better team.
They continue to get the lion’s share of possession, but don’t know what to do with it. Other teams have caught on defensively, and are having an easy time shutting down Barcelona’s plan A, and turning it in their favor.
What would it take to see total football in Barcelona again?
My hope is that Pedri stays healthy, and can develop midfield chemistry with Frenkie de Jong and Ilkay Gundogan.
They are the three most technical players on the team, but they can’t rely on individual playmaking alone.
Gundogan did his best to keep the team together in his first few months at the club, but didn’t experience the tactical cohesion he had grown used to at Manchester City.
Xavi needs to go into 2024 determined to get the most out of this partnership, and it could be as simple as giving them a consistent run of games together to run the show.
Prioritize being a defensive powerhouse again
If Barcelona is going to have success across all competitions, they will need a defense first approach. Just think back to what they had a year ago.
To me that looks like going back to the partnership of Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen, and Alejandro Balde. Keeping things simple means going back to what has proven to work. I see no reason why these four can’t build the wall of Barcelona again.
With the news that Chadi Riad could make his return to the club soon, it’s clear that Laporta and Xavi recognize the importance of prioritizing depth on the backline.
The added benefit here is that Inaki Pena needs protection. He is not Marc-Andre ter Stegen, and in the meantime, the less the team asks of him, the better.
But what does that mean for Joao Cancelo?
It means perhaps in the short term he needs to take a backseat, and join the rotation. For everything he can give offensively, he has a crucial role on the defensive end too, and his attacking mindset in the position may be hurting the team more than it’s helping.
That’s not to say he won’t have a job to do.
I wouldn’t mind seeing him play in a double pivot alongside Frenkie de Jong. Or of course be there as a fullback depending on the matchup.
Realistically, with Gavi out, Xavi will need all hands on deck in the midfield, unless he can find a new player on the market.
Cancelo could surprise people here. Especially if he plays off the left hand side, and can help Joao Felix in the half space as the team builds up the field, and plays in transition.
Ultimately, for me, back to the basics is the way to go for Xavi.
He isn’t going to revolutionize football at Barcelona, but he does have a chance to win trophies if he gets the small things right.
The low hanging fruit is choosing the most reliable defensive line, and getting the most talented players to run the midfield.
Where the goals will come from is more uncertain, and in some ways, out of his control.
But as it was a year ago, Xavi saw with his own eyes, that defense really does win titles.
And that should give all of us hope.