Barca really are back
Barcelona have been improving steadily under Xavi which has drawn cautious optimism from fans that the Catalans are finally getting back to their usual selves.
Sunday’s game at the Bernabeu offered the best opportunity yet to gauge the Catalans’ current progress and the 4-0 win offered concrete proof that yes, Barcelona really are finally back.
There was plenty to admire about the match. Barca won duels all over the pitch, dominated the play, created chance after chance and rarely looked like giving up a goal.
Barça had 17 shots from inside the box at the Bernabéu tonight - the most by a visiting team in La Liga on record (from Opta, since 2006-07). pic.twitter.com/AXaJcwtAbP— Jamie Kemp (@jamiemkemp) March 20, 2022
It’s been quite a long time since we’ve see Barcelona stroking the ball around the Bernabeu like they did on Sunday. Xavi’s return (and perhaps the presence of Dani Alves in the dressing room) has brought the joyfulness back to the team’s play, something that has been missing for too long.
The win sees Barca end a run of five straight Clasico defeats in some style. Real Madrid will go on to win La Liga, but it’s the Catalans who look to have the brighter long-term future right now.
Check Araujo’s pocket
Xavi dropped something of a surprise with his team selection by selecting Ronald Araujo at right-back, over 38-year-old Dani Alves, and keeping Eric Garcia alongside Gerard Pique in central defense.
It turned out to be a great move by the coach as Araujo completely outshone Vinicius, something Barca’s Twitter admin absolutely loved.
check araujo's pocket— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 20, 2022
Vinicius has been in superb form this season but his most notable contribution was a shameless dive in the first half which saw him earn an arm around the shoulder and an avuncular telling off from Gerard Pique.
Araujo, meanwhile, simply went up the other end and powered in Barcelona’s second goal of the night. The Uruguayan doesn’t score many but tends to net important goals for the Catalans.
The defender grabbed a 90th minute equalizer to rescue a draw against Granada back in September and has also found the back of the net against Sevilla and Atletico Madrid in La Liga.
Eric deserves some big praise too. The center-back has been heavily criticized this season but put in a very composed performance, ending the game with a 98% pass accuracy and even finding time to troll Vinicius too.
Eric García to Vinicius: "Hey, you! Ballon D'or for you next season! Ballon D'or right?" pic.twitter.com/LW0m2QsQK6— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) March 20, 2022
Auba loves playing Real Madrid
Of course it was in attack where Barcelona did plenty of damage. The visitors scored four but it’s no exaggeration to say they could have had seven or eight. With better finishing they would have done.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang continued his excellent goalscoring form and grabbed a double. He also produced a glorious backheel to tee up Ferran Torres for his goal which effectively killed off any hope of a Madrid comeback.
The striker seems to love playing Los Blancos and has now scored in five straight games against Los Blancos, including back-to-back braces at the Bernabeu.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's last five games against Real Madrid:— Squawka (@Squawka) March 20, 2022
(A) ⚽️ ️
(A) ⚽️⚽️ ️
Back-to-back braces at the Bernabéu. ✌️ pic.twitter.com/G1CK9y4db3
Auba went on to pull out a dragonball celebration after his second goal which suggested he’d been pretty confident ahead of the match that he would score against Real Madrid. He also made it clear, once again, how much fun he’s having at the Camp Nou.
“I want to tell the truth,” he said after the match. “I think this is the beginning of a new era with so much talent, so many new players, but definitely this is something good for the team mentally. We are just happy to win this game.”
Dembele’s last Clasico?
Auba was once again helped out by his good mate Ousmane Dembele who finished the game with two assists. The Frenchman actually matched a record set by his manager with his first-half contribution.
2 - Ousmane Dembélé is the second @FCBarcelona player to provide two assists in a first half of #ElClásico at the Santiago Bernabéu in all competitions in the 21st century, after Xavi Hernández in May 2009. Stellar. pic.twitter.com/z1Oos803bP— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 20, 2022
Dembele has now provided 14 assists for Aubameyang during his career (for Dortmund and Barca), more than any other teammate and seems to love playing alongside the striker.
How much longer that continues remains to be seen. Dembele’s future remains uncertain, although you do wonder if the arrival of Aubameyang and the forward’s resurgence under Xavi could tempt him into staying.
Dembele had to fight through boo's and whistles after the winter transfer window.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 20, 2022
He now has the most assists (7) in Europe's top 5 leagues in 2022, while flourishing under Xavi.
Dembele’s Clasico performance may convince Barca it’s worth trying again, although he did fade badly in the second half and it was a surprise Xavi waited until the 80th minute to finally bring him off.
Xavi deserves all the praise
The biggest praise of all for Barcelona’s turnaround in form should go to Xavi. There were plenty of doubts about whether the time was right for Xavi to come home when he returned in November but those have now been washed away completely.
It’s easy to forget Xavi has only been in charge for 135 days but he has worked quickly and effectively to turn the team’s fortunes around. Barcelona have earned more points than Real Madrid in the few short months the club legend has been in charge.
Points since Xavi took over:— Phil Kitromilides (@PhilKitro) March 20, 2022
Real Madrid 36
It’s easy to get carried away by big Clasico wins but the fact is there is plenty to be excited about at Barcelona. Xavi has turned the team’s fortunes around completely, has a host of talented young players to choose from and has lifted the mood around the Camp Nou.
Of course Barcelona are still 12 points behind Real Madrid in La Liga which shows there is plenty of work still to do, but for now at least, and as Xavi says, it’s fine to just sit back and celebrate a memorable win.
“I am very proud, very happy. It’s a day to enjoy. It was spectacular, Barça are coming back. There has not been a lot of joy recently, above all in Clasicos,” said Xavi after the game. “And as well as coach, I am a fan. We will celebrate it.”