As we approach the end of the 2022-23 season and Barcelona are on track to finish with two trophies and their first La Liga title in four years, there is no debate about the fact that the team has improved considerably over the last 18 months.
Xavi Hernández’s arrival and a busy transfer window last summer made this team competitive again, and they’re set to win the title with a dominant run through the league. But the performance in Cup competitions, both domestic and continental, make it clear that there’s plenty of work to be done to take the next step towards becoming a force again.
As it’s always the case with a club of Barça’s magnitude, plenty of players have been linked with a move to Camp Nou — or the Olympic Stadium in Montjuïc as of next season — and if rumors are to be believed we are in for another summer of lots of ins and outs and the promise of a stronger squad next season.
Fans are also wondering if Xavi is truly the man to lead the project given the constant failures in Europe and a humiliating Copa del Rey elimination this week, but the balance is still positive in favor of the club legend who has shown enough to deserve at least one more season in charge.
But the brutal, honest truth is that Barça will never reach the heights of the last decade with better players or even a better coach. They might even get their finances in order again and build a superteam that still might not win the most desired trophies again if one thing doesn’t change: their inability to prevent and properly treat injuries.
We are now into the second full month without arguably the two most important players in the team in Pedri and Ousmane Dembélé, who are nowhere near a return as of yet and might end up missing a large portion — if not all — of the most crucial part of the season.
This is now the second year in a row with Pedri gone when it matters the most, and while Dembélé did avoid serious injury for almost an entire year since Xavi became manager, he’s now on track to miss his 14th straight match when Barça welcome Girona for their next La Liga game on Monday with a thigh injury that was initially supposed to keep him out for a maximum of four weeks — back in February.
And it’s not just about short-term injuries that turn into month-long problems. Frenkie De Jong is now dealing with a hamstring injury that can be at least partially blamed on the Dutchman playing virtually every minute of football between the end of January and the March international break, and Ronald Araujo was rushed back to play a match against bottom of the table Elche last weekend despite being diagnosed with and then medically cleared from a groin injury — the same injury that caused him to miss two months earlier this season — in less than two weeks.
Pedri’s constant muscle injuries are a result of him essentially never being rested or rotated in less important matches, and we haven’t even mentioned the confusing and brutally long recovery that might have robbed Ansu Fati of a legendary career. Samuel Umtiti also could never recover from a long knee injury at Barça, but as soon as he moved to Italy he became an instant starter and an excellent player again who might make Barça some unexpected big money in the market.
For the better part of five years now, Barça players play too much, get injured too often and take way too long to come back. It’s the same story every time, no matter who the manager is. Mateu Alemany’s transfer market miracles and Joan Laporta’s lever-pulling won’t matter one bit if the club doesn’t solve the injury problem.
The professionals in charge of the medical department either must do better or must be replaced; Xavi and his coaching staff have to be more judicious with player minutes early in the season so they are available when it matters the most; players are competitive and never want to sit, but they also need to understand that sometimes a rest is necessary for the sake of the team — and the players themselves.
This is the unspoken true crisis of FC Barcelona. Not the finances. Not Negreira. Not Xavi in Europe.