Like Gavi said, two years ago we lose this game.
Something has changed at Football Club Barcelona, and it’s an element that helped the team win trophies last season, and will be even more important in the upcoming campaign.
The team isn’t necessarily more talented. The tactics under Xavi haven’t become more sophisticated or effective.
The players just seem to like one another, and for all intents and purposes, they seem to believe in their manager too.
In order to win La Liga, they’ll be going up against an improved rival in Real Madrid, who is already showing a ruthlessness to see out games. Carlo Ancelotti is famous for his man management, and ability to maintain cohesion and harmony within the group.
That can make all the difference in the close games, when you aren’t really playing well, but still find a way to get the three points. Whichever team is able to capture the most of those grind-it-out wins is likely to be the one that’s crowned champion.
The Champions League is another ball game, where every day, Barcelona will have to be able to deal with high-pressure situations, especially when things aren’t going their way.
Against Osasuna, Barca once again didn’t look great.
Honestly, there’s a lot of work to do on the training ground to get this group to know the program, their role in it, in order to improve the associative play.
Right now, Frankie de Jong seems to be running the show, and his team-mates are playing off him.
With the introduction of the two Joaos, Barcelona has the quality to increase the speed of play, to make themselves more dangerous in the attack, and more steady on the backline.
But this is it. The transfer window is closed.
This is what Barcelona has. From a talent standpoint, it should be more than enough.
Joao Felix will finally get a chance to play in a system that plays to his strengths, and get past a rocky tenure at Atletico Madrid once and for all. With the departure of Ousmane Dembele, it will be valuable to have a new player who can beat defenders on the dribble, as well as having the flexibility to play in different positions, and in different formations.
Joao Cancelo is exciting, but we have to remember that he may need time to get his confidence back to where it was a few years ago. The Bayern Munich loan wasn’t helpful, but at Barcelona the job is his, with so little competition in the position. That should give him the time to adapt, although he may not need it.
That outside of the foot cross to Robert Lewandowski was a delight, and I for one am appreciative to have a player on the team that can get me out of my seat.
But as Gavi alluded to, no matter who is given the chances right away, the Barcelona players are staying ready and hungry to help out the team in whatever way they can.
The way they are celebrating goals says it all.
These players like one another, and they are showing a selflessness that should give us all hope, that they are up to the challenge of winning tough games.
Ferran Torres deserves a lot of credit for setting the example.
We can all agree that on merit, he deserved a reduced role last season. We can also agree that Barcelona vastly overpaid for him.
Instead of sulking, however, he has kept his head down, continued to work hard, and has waited patiently for his opportunity. And now, even with the few minutes he is being given, he is showing a determination to help out in whatever way he can.
Ferran in my mind has always had two strengths. The first was his football IQ. He can take in tactical instructions, play in a variety of positions, and read the game well. That makes him very valuable in a utility role.
But he’s also a hard worker. Even when he’s underperforming, you feel for him, because you can see how badly he wants to do well.
Right now, that attitude is paying dividends for the individual, and the team.
We should be cautious, however, with the declaration that this strong esprit de corps in the dressing room is enough.
Players like Ferran run on confidence, and that’s a fickle thing.
Teams that rely on vibes can only ride the momentum so far, because once it runs out, it’s the structures you build that determine how far you can go. Without a reliable system, the good feelings won’t last.
Going into the international break, Xavi will have to take a hard look at himself and the team.
Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing to build strong morale and camaraderie.
But most important, be ready to communicate a vision for how this team is going to win games by putting in good performances consistently.
For that, there also needs to be high standards.
And when the team doesn’t play well, even if it results in a win, there should be accountability.
For now, maybe meritocracy looks like giving Ferran Torres a run of games as a starter.
Maybe it will mean dropping Lewandowski for a game in order to motivate him to raise his level.
Once Barcelona returns to action in a few weeks, the ship will be moving forward fast, and there won’t be much time to change direction.
All hands on board.
Working towards a common goal.
For now, I’m happy to see the focus on the mission, and a team willing to fight and sacrifice for one another.
But the captain knows it’s a long journey. And a lot can go wrong.
Let’s hope he’s thinking through all the contingencies.