Pressure back on Xavi after Real humiliation
Xavi endured his worst night as Barcelona boss on Sunday, seeing his team thrashed by Real Madrid in a humbling 4-1 defeat in the Spanish Super Cup final.
We all know the Super Cup is the lowest priority but victory in this fixture last season did hand Xavi his first trophy as Barcelona boss and laid the foundation for the team’s title triumph.
Xavi had been eager to repeat that victory this time around but the defeat, and in particular the nature of the loss, means the pressure is right back on the Barcelona boss.
The former midfielder has already admitted he knows his team don’t just have to win, they have to play well if he’s to stay in his job. The thing is they are doing neither at the moment.
What’s worse is that this is hardly a vintage Madrid team. Yet Carlo Ancelotti’s side won at a canter. Fans can argue about some of the decisions but there’s no doubt Xavi’s side were soundly beaten.
8 - Xavi is the 8th #Barcelona manager to concede 4 or more goals in at least two games against Real Madrid ⚪️⚪️ in the entire history of the azulgrana side, the first since Frank Rijkaard (4-2 in April 2005 and 4-1 in May 2008). Nightmare. pic.twitter.com/YGzATtwkha— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 14, 2024
Barca chiefs have been quick to back Xavi all season long, but there will be question marks about his long-term future after this defeat.
The team’s chances of winning silverware this season don’t look great, but more worrying is the question over where Xavi’s side is actually going.
Barcelona’s defense was arguably their greatest strength last season but was a shambles on Sunday. Madrid scored four and might have had a few more on the night.
The team also lacked creativity, character, intensity and a killer instinct. Xavi can point to injuries to key players as an excuse and moan about how he’s unable to sign this winter, but the fact remains he is not getting anything like the best out of the players he has available.
Xavi’s anti-Vinicius plan backfires
Xavi employed his ‘anti-Vinicius plan’ again on Sunday but saw it backfire spectacularly as the Brazilian bagged a hat-trick for Real Madrid and Ronald Araujo was sent off.
Araujo was stationed at right-back to counter the threat of Vinicius, leaving Jules Kounde to move inside and partner Andreas Christensen in the heart of the defence.
Yet Vinicius ended up playing more centrally and ran riot. Indeed it was Kounde who was at fault for the first goal, making a huge mistake which allowed the Brazilian to run through on goal and finish past Inaki Pena.
More poor defending following three minutes later as Vinicius scored again. Barcelona’s suicidal high line was exposed yet again and suddenly the game was over almost as soon as it had begun.
There’s no doubt that Araujo has had the better of Vinicus in recent games (the Brazilian had just three goals in 15 Clasicos heading into the match) but it was a different story in Saudi Arabia.
Araujo was erratic all night and gave away a penalty for a foul on Vini for the third goal. The Madrid man needed no invitation to go down but the Barca defender was foolish for grabbing his opponent by the neck.
It then got worse in the second half when Araujo picked up his second booking of the night to earn a red card and an early bath.
All in all it was a defensive disasterclass by Barcelona against Madrid. The league defeat earlier this season was damaging but this defeat showed up the huge gulf between the two sides currently.
Can Barcelona turn this around?
Barcelona will have to pick themselves up quickly from this defeat with the Copa del Rey next up on Thursday before a La Liga clash against Real Betis.
Xavi’s job seems safe for now but if results and performances don’t improve vastly then it will be no surprise if Barcelona opt to make some changes.
The Barca boss apologized to fans after Sunday’s result but insisted he was confident he can get his team back on track.
“I believe in the project, myself and in the players and that we can turn the situation around, starting Thursday against Unionistas,” he told reporters.
“Today is a step back and a big blow for me, the club and the players, but this is sport and the project continues. I have been in these situations many times.”
Barca won this fixture 3-1 last season in a game where Xavi and his players had a clear plan of how they wanted to play. Fast forward 12 months and the players look completely lost, while the overriding feeling is that Xavi may have taken this team as far as he can.