Relief for Xavi...for now
Xavi came back from the brink on Thursday night as Barca scored three times to secure a comeback win against third-tier side Unionistas and keep their Copa del Rey hopes alive.
The Barcelona boss came into the game under pressure after the awful defeat to Real Madrid and then saw his team go behind against a club in the same league as Barca Atletic.
The pictures of a very unimpressed Joan Laporta sitting in the stands quickly spread on social media, and Xavi’s job seemed to be hanging by a thread.
Barca were poor in the first half but were saved just before the break. Some naïve defending from Unionistas allowed Barca to break from a corner, with Ferran Torres running through and scoring.
⚠️ Beware sharks in open water pic.twitter.com/XvZGoZZS2C— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 18, 2024
A presumably harsh team talk followed, as well as three substitutes, and Barca finally won the game with goals from defenders Jules Kounde and Alejandro Balde.
It wasn’t a great night at all for Barcelona, especially considering Inaki Pena had far more work to do that he would have been expecting, but a win is a win and the team remain in Copa del Rey contention.
Balde and Kounde go from zeroes to heroes
Barcelona’s defensive woes have been a theme of the current campaign and have seen plenty of criticism directed the way of Balde and Kounde.
The two were in from the start again on Thursday night and were part of a side that once again conceded the first goal.
Yet Barca had plenty to thank the two defenders for after the match. Kounde’s goal put Barca in the lead, with the Frenchman thumping home a low shot that beat the goalkeeper.
Kounde: Hang on, I got this pic.twitter.com/sGflMVzg4H— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 18, 2024
Balde’s goal was completely different. A really brilliant individual effort that ended with the left-back firing past the goalkeeper at his near post.
Xavi was thrilled to see Balde score and offered him some advice after the match.
“I am delighted for him. He’s a 20-year-old kid who had dipped because he received the criticism, but it happens. He has to rebel against that,” Xavi said afterwards.
“He is unstoppable at times and he has so much quality, he just has to exploit it. If you stop him going outside, he can go inside. He is not always a 10/10, but you’re not always excellent, this is football, this is life.”
Barca will be hoping this can be a turning point for both players. The team’s defensive problems have been unexpected this season, particularly after last year’s brilliance, but need resolving if the team are to progress.
Promising debut for Cubarsi
Barca’s win also saw a promising debut for 16-year-old Pau Cubarsi. The teenager came on at half-time to take over from Andreas Christensen who had picked up a knock.
Xavi was short of options defensively with Ronald Araujo suspended and Marco Alonso and Inigo Martinez injured which proved to be good news for Cubarsi.
The youngster has been hyped for some time and will have been happy with his first senior appearance for Xavi’s side.
The stats show he did a fine job too alongside Jules Kounde, and he was even credited with an assist for the Frenchman’s goal which put Barca ahead for the first time in the match.
| 16yo Pau Cubarsí on his first team debut.— Barça Buzz (@Barca_Buzz) January 19, 2024
- 45 Mins Played
- 1 Assist
- 65 Touches
- 56/60 Passes
- 4/6 Long Balls
- 1 Chance Created
- 0 Times Dispossessed
- 2 Tackles
- 1 Block
- 1 Clearance
- 1 Interception
- 1 Ball Recovery
- 2/3 Ground Duels Won
- 0 Times Dribbled Past pic.twitter.com/8G00waYNyr
Cubarsi is the latest teenager to debut with Barcelona this season, joining Hector Fort, Marc Guiu and Fermin Lopez in enjoying minutes under Xavi with the first team.
La Masia is continuing to deliver the goods for Barcelona, and Cubarsi will be hoping for more opportunities with the first team as the season progresses.