Barcelona have been crowned champions of Spain in Xavi’s first full season in charge. But how did they do it? And what has changed at Barca this season? Time to take a look...
Ter Stegen 2.0
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is arguably Barcelona’s Player of the Season for 2022-23. Even 21-goal Robert Lewandowski has admitted “this is Ter Stegen’s season” after seeing his stopper keep 25 clean sheets already.
The German has conceded just 13 goals in 34 matches and could well add to his tally of clean sheets before the season is out. The fact he was visibly furious at conceding twice against Espanyol, despite the victory giving his team the title, spoke volumes.
Ter Stegen has undoubtedly returned to his top form this season and benefitted hugely from taking the summer off and not joining up with the Germany squad for Nations League fixtures.
Barcelona’s goalkeeper has admitted the break allowed to him rest physically and mentally and “recharge his batteries” after a draining time.
The stopper has also revealed that a point-blank save from Jaume Costa against Real Mallorca at the start of the 2022 filled him with a confidence he’s carried thoughout his record-breaking campaign.
A bolstered backline
Ter Stegen has been undoubtedly helped by a bolstered backline. Barca snapped up Jules Kounde, Marcos Alonso and Andreas Christensen in the summer and the signings have helped the team go on to become the meanest defence in Europe’s top five leagues.
Christensen has been one of the surprises of the season. Brought in to little fanfare and a fair amount of criticism he has quietly gone about his business and become Xavi’s first choice in central defense alongside Ronald Araujo.
Big-money signing Jules Kounde has ended up playing at right-back, while Alejandro Balde (more on him later) has taken over from Jordi Alba on the opposite flank and enjoyed a stunning campaign.
Barca’s defense has been vulnerable for years but this season it has been one of the team’s greatest strengths. There are still issues at the back (namely who will play right-back next season?) but Barca’s title win has been built on very solid foundations.
Out with the old, in with the new (ish)
Question marks had lingered over the futures of Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba for a while heading into the season, and it was always going to be interesting to see how Xavi handled the issue, particularly given he played with all three veterans.
Pique lasted until November before announcing he was hanging up his boots after making just five La Liga starts. The defender subsequently admitted he’d taken the decision because he no longer felt important.
Jordi Alba has also lost importance this season and been outshone by Balde. The 19-year-old has been the breakout star of the campaign and will surely keep Alba on the bench next season if the veteran decides to stay
And then there’s Sergio Busquets who has already confirmed he’s off. Xavi has said he wanted to keep his captain, but Busquets has called time on his career and will leave when his contract expires.
He goes at the right time, as a La Liga winner but with question marks over how Barca will look without the midfielder in the team.
Signing Robert Lewandowski
Barcelona splashed out €50m on signing Robert Lewandowski in the summer from Bayern Munich on a three-year deal. Eyebrows were raised at the price tag, given Lewandowski’s age, but the Poland international has been worth the investment.
Lewandowsk has netted 21 times in La Liga, to top the scoring charts, and looks set to add the Pichichi award to his Spanish Super Cup and La Liga titles collected in his first season at Barcelona.
⚠️ | QUICK STAT— Sofascore (@SofascoreINT) May 14, 2023
⚽️ Most goals: Robert Lewandowski (21)
✅ Most goal involvements: Robert Lewandowski (27)
Most xG accumulated: Robert Lewandowski (21.72)
Most winning goals: Robert Lewandowski (8)
Not bad for a first season at the club. pic.twitter.com/PipIjwFkJR
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Lewandowski, with his form taking a hit after the World Cup in Qatar, but he simply guarantees goals as 31 in 41 games in all competitions this season demonstrates.
Simply put, Barcelona wouldn’t have won La Liga without him.
The Xavi effect
Xavi has also been doubted since taking over at Barcelona, largely due to his lack of managerial experience. The coach knew he had to deliver trophies this season and duly obliged with the Super Cup and La Liga.
His team still needs plenty of improvement if they are to compete in Europe next season, but winning La Liga was always Xavi’s first priority and he’ll hope it’s the start of something very special.
Xavi has also had to cope with the rollercoaster world that is Barca. He’s readily admitted that some of his “worst days” have come as Barcelona coach but his love and commitment to the club is plain for all to see.
Five men have won LaLiga with Barcelona as a player and a manager:— Squawka (@Squawka) May 14, 2023
◎ Josep Samitier
◎ Johan Cruyff
◎ Pep Guardiola
◎ Luis Enrique
Following in the footsteps of legends. pic.twitter.com/hxmKRlPjIy
Xavi has come through the storm and smoothed a number of key issues. He’s been rewarded for putting his faith in Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong, ensured Balde was not sent out on loan and has put up with endless questions about Lionel Messi.
And he ends his first full season in charge as a league champion, following in the footsteps of legends such as Samitier, Cruyff, Guardiola and Luis Enrique and becoming only the fifth person to win the league as a player and a manager at Barcelona.