Xavi’s taking the Copa seriously
Xavi made it clear he’s taking the Copa del Rey seriously by naming his strongest XI for the visit of Real Sociedad. There was no place in the starting line-up for the likes of Inaki Pena, Pablo Torre, Hector Bellerin or Franck Kessie.
Yet the coach’s thinking was surely also influenced by La Real’s recent form. Imanol Alguacil’s side headed to the Camp Nou on a run of nine straight wins and Xavi knew this was no time for rotating.
BARÇA XI #BarçaRealSociedad pic.twitter.com/465WJIF1Pp— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 25, 2023
Xavi was pretty unrepentant about his team selection too when asked why Pena had been benched in place of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
“I thought that Ter Stegen had to play today, just as I thought Iñaki Peña had to play against Ceuta and in Alicante,” he said. “They know how it goes, they’re all in the team and I haven’t given them any further explanation.”
Ter Stegen ended up putting in another crucial performance between the sticks which vindicated Xavi’s decision. Will we see Pena again in the tournament now Barcelona have reached the semi-final stage?
Unplayable Dembele rewards Xavi’s faith
Ousmane Dembele was Barcelona’s match winner against Real Sociedad with an exhilarating performance (his best in a Barca shirt?) that made him simply unplayable at times.
The Frenchman scored the only goal of the match with a brilliant run and finish but did plenty more too. Dembele teed up chances for Frenkie de Jong and Gavi and simply caused the visitors problems all night long.
January 25, 2023
Xavi has given the 25-year-old his full backing ever since he arrived at the club to take over from Ronald Koeman and was full of praise for the forward after the game.
Dembele’s future is likely to be the subject of speculation again soon, with the forward having only penned an extension until 2024 last year, but on this form his renewal must be a priority.
Manzano in the spotlight again
Referee Gil Manzano was in the spotlight the last time he oversaw a Barcelona game, by sending off Robert Lewandowski, and came up with another red card on Wednesday.
Barcelona fans clearly hadn’t forgiven the match official for sending off Lewandowski, booing him during the warm-up and barracking him throughout the game. There were a few amicable chats with Lewandowski during the 90 minutes but no cards for the attacker.
Manzano’s red card came for a horrible foul by Brais Mendez on Sergio Busquets. There could be few arguments about the decision, even Alguacil felt the referee had no choice but to send off Mendez after he’d been called to look at the monitor by VAR.
“If I am the referee and I am called to look at the image, I do the same,” he said. “But it’s football, and I am sure Xavi would agree with me that without VAR, it passes as just another moment.”
You get the feeling both clubs will be happy not to see Manzano again for a while.
Familiar failings for Barca
Barcelona’s win over Real Sociedad brought some familiar failings from the Catalan giants. Indeed even Ronald Araujo admitted he knew what Xavi would tell his players after the win.
The hosts were superb for the opening half an hour and really should have scored. Jules Kounde, Frenkie de Jong and Dembele all had chances but could not convert. Again.
Dembele did go on and net the winner but once again Barca’s failure to kill games off threatened to come back and haunt them. Ter Stegen made important saves from Robert Navarro and Jon Ander Olasagasti, while Alexander Sørloth missed a sitter.
The issues at both ends of the pitch have been a recurring theme all season. Can Xavi find a way to fix Barca’s problems as we head towards the business end of the campaign?
Is Kounde now Barca’s right-back?
Xavi once again went with four midfielders against La Real, Lewandowski and Dembele in attack and a backline consisting of Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen as his two center-backs and Alejando Balde and Jules Kounde the full-backs.
It seems that this is now Xavi’s strongest available team when everyone is fit and the one we will see in the biggest games of the season between now and the end of the campaign.
| Jules Koundé Real Sociedad:— BarçaTimes (@BarcaTimes) January 25, 2023
• 90 mins
• 69/80 passes completed
• 1 ASSIST
• 2 chances created
• 1 dribble
• 2/2 accurate long balls
• 0 times dispossessed
• 1 clearance
• 5 recoveries
• 5/7 total duels won
Unreal consistency, @jkeey4 ! #fcblive pic.twitter.com/0Y047sfZNi
All of which means it now looks that Jules Kounde is Barcelona’s right-back. The position has been a problem at the club for some time and Barca’s perilous financial position has ruled out any mid-season signings.
Kounde’s preferred position is in the middle and it was even reported last summer he told Xavi he did not want to play at full-back. Has he had a change of heart since? Kounde did play in that position during the World Cup and certainly looks to be the solution to Barca’s right-back problems right now.