It can’t be denied that Xavi has made an impact at Barcelona.
In games big and small, Barcelona have looked confident in the run of play, dominating possession, and putting in solid performances on a consistent basis.
It’s not an accident that they sit in first place at the turn of the year.
The biggest turnaround has been defensively, having only conceded six goals. No one in the league comes close, and it’s given the Catalans a solid lead on Real Madrid in terms of goal differential.
The title, however, will be decided by games like the one on New Year’s Eve against Espanyol.
It won’t matter that you put in a commanding performance over your rival. The only thing that will matter is results.
On Friday, Real Madrid played poorly.
In the end it didn’t matter, because they got the result. This is what they do, whether it’s on their own merit, or with the good fortune of a late penalty call.
They find ways to win games, and that should put Barcelona on alert.
On Saturday, Barcelona played well for 70 minutes, but only had one goal to show for it.
In the end, they allowed the referee to steal the show, and an Espanyol side who, as always, are more than happy to use chaos to their advantage to pull out a result.
Barcelona will not win the league against a resolute Real Madrid without a winning culture.
There’s a reason why Barca has been knocked out of the Champions League group stage two years in a row, while Real Madrid has won the competition five times since 2014.
Real Madrid are concerned about winning, whatever it takes. Doesn’t have to be pretty. Just get the job done.
Barcelona prioritize their style of play, and can’t adapt when their backs are against the wall.
Systematically, Xavi has the team playing much better since his arrival.
He has the talent to compete with anyone.
But the mentality in clutch time has yet to change.
They could have put Bayern Munich away, but they didn’t.
They could have put Inter Milan away, but they didn’t.
They could have put Espanyol away, but instead, they let their opponent stick around, leaving the door open for bad luck to rule the day.
An unfortunate penalty.
Good teams don’t leave it to chance.
Where are the killers on this team?
Xavi can do more to demand his team play direct and go for goals over possession.
Instead, when Barcelona goes up, they hold onto the ball.
78% possession. Over 650 passes. 1 goal.
This antiquated style of play does not serve.
This team can’t consist of side characters who pass the ball nicely together.
Who will step up with the energy of a protagonist?
One name screams out for the left side of the attack and that’s Memphis Depay.
This team could use a bit of his swagger and goalscoring instincts.
In the midfield, Pedri and Gavi need to grow up fast and become leaders. The rhythm of the game is determined by them. Their youth is a great strength, but also could become a liability in critical moments.
We’ve yet to see what Franck Kessie can contribute when given an actual role. I have a feeling his skill set could be very useful if he’s allowed to express himself.
Whoever is chosen, Xavi must hold the players accountable. Dropping precious points against lower level competition is unacceptable.
January will be a revealing month with a trophy on the line, and an opportunity to set the pace in La Liga, and to show their intention in the Copa del Rey.
The New Year’s Eve wake up call should be all that’s needed.
Look alive. Have urgency. Go for the kill.
Who on this team is up for the task?