Xavi suffers first defeat as Barca boss
Real Betis handed Barcelona a first defeat under Xavi and you can’t say it hadn’t been coming. Barca had sneaked wins over Villarreal and Espanyol before Saturday’s match but Xavi’s luck ran out as Betis struck on the counter to secure all three points.
It perhaps shouldn’t come as too big a surprise either. Real Betis are on their best start to a season in 85 years, when they won the title, and the three points at the Camp Nou take Los Verdiblancos into third place in the table.
Barca now languish down in seventh place, have won just 6 of 15 league games, and have scored just 23 goals - it’s their worst goalscoring tally for almost 20 years.
23 - FC Barcelona have scored only 23 goals after their first 15 LaLiga 2021/22, their lowest tally at this stage of the season since 2003/04 (19). Drought. pic.twitter.com/XhiQVjSYPI— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 4, 2021
Xavi now has his work cut out lifting his players for a simply huge game on Wednesday against Bayern Munich. A win is needed but given the problems in attack Barca’s best chances of progressing to the last 16 probably lie with Dynamo Kiev beating or holding Benfica in the other game in the group.
More doubts over Sergino Dest
Xavi recalled fit-again Sergino Dest to the starting XI against Real Betis amid speculation that the new coach isn’t 100 per cent convinced by the USMNT star so far and may even be willing to offload him if needed.
One of the main criticisms of Dest seems to be his habit of switching off in crucial moments and so it proved for the only goal of the game. A quick counter had Barca in all sorts of trouble but Dest should have done better than be attracted to the ball rather than close down Juanmi.
El gol de Juanmi para la victoria del Betis en el Camp Nou 0-1. pic.twitter.com/vyop7VHzSt— Alberto Edjogo-Owono (@albertoowono) December 4, 2021
Of course, Dest wasn’t the only one at fault for the goal but it was clear Xavi was really not happy with his team’s defending after the game.
“We deserved more, it’s a shame not to have gotten something out of this game, I was there to win it,” he said. “I am very angry with the goal, because we had worked on these types of plays. That goal cannot happen to us. These transitions must be stopped, we know that they activate very fast transitions.”
Dest may not get too many more chances to try and impress Xavi either. Barca have four more fixtures before the turn of the year. Xavi will then be able to call upon Dani Alves in January and you suspect the Brazilian will go straight into the starting XI.
Dembele the only threat for toothless Barca
Barca also had problems at the other end where the team continues to look toothless in front of goal. Philippe Coutinho started brightly, hit a post and then fizzled out, Ez Abde missed an absolute sitter and Memphis Depay had very little impact.
The Dutchman has done a decent job so far but really needs some help. He could probably do with a breather too but that’s not going too happen because of the injuries to Ansu Fati, Martin Braithwaite and Sergio Aguero.
Memphis Real Betis— A D I L (@Barzaboy) December 4, 2021
0 Successful dribbles
24 Accurate passes
2 Key passes
20 Times lost possession pic.twitter.com/w1uej7dmkl
Barca didn’t really look truly threatening until Ousmane Dembele came on. The Frenchman’s pace and willingness to drive at defenders caused Betis all sorts of problems, and he was a little unfortunate not to grab an equalizer with one of his shots that fizzed narrowly wide.
Dembele should start against Bayern Munich which does offer some hope, but it’s very difficult to see how Barca can beat the Bavarian giants. Xavi obviously really needs Ansu Fati back but it seems he’s still not quite ready to return.
Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl about potential attackers who could arrive in January. A forward signing would undoubtedly be a boost but we all know that the club’s financial problems make any potential transfers very tricky.
Gavi to return again Bayern?
Midfielder Gavi also added to Barcelona’s problems by picking up a nasty-looking head injury in the first half. It was a bit worrying to see Gavi try to carry on without even being checked out by the club’s doctors, even more so when he ended up on the turf again moments later.
Gavi was eventually stretchered off and sent to hospital after the game. Barca later confirmed that he’d been discharged and he was back at the club on Sunday which suggests he’ll be OK.
Riqui Puig replaced the 17-year-old which offered the midfielder a golden chance to try and stake a claim for more minutes under Xavi. The 22-year-old was neat and tidy but it will be a surprise if he starts against Bayern Munich.
Top four finish looking tricky
Defeat to Bayern would put Barca in the Europa League which would be embarrassing but would at least offer the Catalans another way of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
As things stands a top-four finish is looking a tall ask. Defeat to Betis leaves Barcelona seven points behind Los Verdiblancos although they do have a game in hand. The result also sees Xavi’s men a massive 16 points off the top and six points off Atletico Madrid in fourth.
Barca’s next two fixtures look winnable, on paper at least, as the Catalans take on Osasuna and Elche. However, the final fixture of 2021 is away at high-flying Sevilla which will prove yet another test of Xavi’s men.