Xavi’s Barcelona has formed an unexpected identity.
The defensive powerhouse of Spain.
That’s been the story of this La Liga campaign, and now we are set for one of the most exciting, and consequential, Clasicos in recent history.
At first, it seemed like a fluke.
Only eight goals conceded in 25 games? Is this really Barcelona?
That’s not to say the team isn’t scoring their fair share. They’re right up there with Real Madrid, just shy of 50. Not bad considering the drought of Robert Lewandowski, who will most certainly catch fire down the stretch, and claim the Pichichi in the process.
But it’s the eye test that doesn’t lie.
This is not Barcelona total football.
During large stretches of games, as was the case against Athletic Club, Barca struggles to maintain possession.
This is certainly not what Xavi wants to see. The intention is to play out from the back, but they don’t seem to have the magic (or talent?) of the legends who came before them.
But the reaction is what’s most important.
They don’t panic, and they don’t force the ball through. They are willing to even allow the opponent to play in possession.
Against Real Madrid in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final, Barcelona played an entire match this way. It was ugly, but it didn’t matter. The football cliché about learning to suffer is manifesting at the Camp Nou.
There has been nothing beautiful about Barcelona Football Club recently, so maybe it’s ok that the playing style reflects that.
Everyone is tired of the drama and dysfunction. If the world wants to laugh and enjoy the club’s struggles, then no better way to silence them, than to embrace the role of villain and lift a trophy high and proud.
There’s silverware on the line this weekend at the Camp Nou, and it’s a big one.
If the goal of this season was to show that Barca refuses to go gentle into the good night, then they are very close to accomplishing that mission.
It’s time to become the kings of Spain again by seizing the domestic double. Away from Real Madrid nonetheless.
And maybe it’s time for all of us Barca fans to look in the mirror.
We can honor the great Barca heritage without having to be stuck in the past.
The world constantly changes, and so does football.
Barca is winning now because they’re not afraid to turn their back on the Barca way when the situation calls for it.
This season, it’s the defense that energizes and gives character to the team, and hope for the future.
Good defense is about organization, which has greatly improved, but also an esprit de corps. Standing tall together and fighting until the end. It’s contagious and everyone is joining in.
But where did it start?
A manager with who refused to believe his team couldn’t compete for everything?
A young Gavi setting an example that it’s ok, in fact fun, to get physical and throw yourself into tackles?
Finally discovering how a modern defensive line needs to look and act?
Or maybe it’s just one of the very best and overlooked goalkeepers in the world finally getting his chance to shine.
Add it all up, and you have a team on the cusp of accomplishing something special, that was desperately needed, but hard to believe when the season began.
With all the investment, perhaps the intention always was to be in this position, but no one predicted that it would play out like this.
Let’s enjoy this week.
Barcelona is back where they belong, and culers around the world should savor every moment.
This Clasico is a final in every respect.
Real Madrid won’t go out without a fight, and Barcelona will be ready to give them one in return.
Without Pedri and Dembele, once again, Barca will need to find a way, even if it isn’t pretty.
The record suggests that’s exactly what they’ll do.
Time to become champions again.