A tough week for Xavi
Xavi’s return brought plenty of optimism to Barcelona but those feelings are fading fast as the new coach is made fully aware of the size of the task ahead of him after a tough week in charge.
Defeat to Real Betis was followed by another Champions League humbling at Bayern that demonstrated the huge gulf between the two sides.
Barca then headed to El Sadar needing a result but Sunday’s draw saw Xavi’s men fail to make up ground in the race for the top four and a place in next season’s Champions League.
Barcelona under Xavi:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 12, 2021
Clean sheets: 2
Three games unbeaten is followed by three games without a win. pic.twitter.com/IXudsQ1jwr
Injuries remain a problem for Xavi, who was without a host of players once again, but he’s also struggling to get the best out of some of his key players.
Frenkie de Jong looks completely lost at the moment, Ousmane Dembele is yet to consistently sparkle since returning from injury, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen isn’t convincing anyone right now either.
And then there’s players like Riqui Puig, Sergino Dest, and Alejandro Balde who don’t appear to have convinced Xavi at all and didn’t feature again. The trio should play in midweek against Boca Juniors but it’s a needless fixture that Xavi could really do without right now.
Barcelona youngsters love El Sadar
Sunday’s draw saw Nico Gonzalez and Ez Abde score their first goals for Barcelona on a ground where La Masia products seem to thrive.
Nico bagged the opening goal after a glorious ball from Gavi and seemed as surprised as everyone else in the stadium when it flew past goalkeeper Sergio Herrera.
Osasuna promptly equalized through David Garcia but were pegged back once again when Ez Abde hammered the ball in at the far post after good work from Ousmane Dembele.
It was a goal that went down very well on the Barcelona bench.
The goals mean that Nico and Abde follow in the footsteps of Ilaix Moriba and Ansu Fati who also scored their first Barca goals at Osasuna. Iliax was on target in a 2-0 win back in March, while Ansu’s first senior goal came at El Sadar in August 2019.
Chances for Umtiti & Luuk de Jong
Xavi raised a few eyebrows with his team selection against Osasuna, handing Samuel Umtiti his first minutes of the 2021-22 season. Luuk de Jong was also back in the starting XI but, let’s face it, only because Barca were without a host of attackers due to injury.
Umtiti lined alongside Gerard Pique and Ronald Araujo in central defense and looked, unsurprisingly, rusty. A poor early back pass led to a corner and he appeared to be marking absolutely no-one when David Garcia equalized.
Yet he improved as the game wore on and he might even get a chance next week too. Gerard Pique will miss the visit of Elche after picking up his first yellow card of the season and will therefore sit out Barcelona’s next La Liga game.
De Jong should also sit that one out after offering absolutely nothing. Indeed it was something of a surprise he lasted the whole 90 minutes. A wildly ambitious attempt at a bicycle kick that he made a complete mess of summed up his afternoon.
Gavi is an inspiration
While the veterans struggled it was up to the youngsters to show the way with Gavi catching the eye. The midfielder has already come in for plenty of praise this season after breaking into the first team for both club and country but he deserves even more for another effervescent and relentless display at El Sadar.
The 17-year-old looked to be in tears when he came off against Bayern in midweek and seemed on a mission to make up for going out of Europe all by himself against Osasauna. He was everywhere, all the time, defending with his boots unlaced, shinpads falling out, an example to some of the more senior players in the team.
Gavi’s spirit and bravery is something else and is so needed at Barcelona, particularly now when times are tough and the team is low on confidence, belief and a bag of nerves at the back.
The teenager ended the game with an assist, a pass accuracy of 91%, yet another yellow card, and his place in the starting XI cemented even further.
Abde outshines Dembele
Ousmane Dembele made his first start of the season for Barcelona against Osasuna but found himself outshone by Abde who popped up on the left wing and was Barca’s main threat throughout the game.
Osasuna were clearly worried by Abde’s willingness to drive at their defenders, Ruben Garcia and Nacho Vidal picked up yellow cards for fouls on the youngsters, and his well-taken goal was a deserved reward for a performance full of effort.
“I am happy for the goal, but sad for the result,” he said after the match. “I hope it will be the first goal of many, but I think we did not deserve the draw at the end. We have to keep working, put on the overalls and work.”
Abde is still very raw and clearly lacks a bit of end-product but his attitude can’t be faulted and is likely to result in plenty more first-team chances. Dembele, meanwhile, set up the youngster’s goal but once again didn’t have the impact Xavi would have been hoping for from the Frenchman.