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Opinion: Xavi, Barcelona, and a case of poor squad management

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Photo by Matt King/Getty Images

Barcelona’s struggles as a result of injuries are far-reaching, with detrimental effects on the overall cohesiveness of the team. Against Getafe for instance, Barça had to play the defensive duo of Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza essentially by default. The team suffers a panoply of injuries, and these periodically reflect on the line-ups.

The reasons for this are multifaceted, however some of them have in common the fact that players are being as misused as they are being overused.

In this article, Barça Universal will explore to what extent Xavi Hernandez is overusing his players and what solutions he could use next season.

The questionable use of four key players

Ferran Torres

Having joined Barcelona from Manchester City this past winter, Ferran Torres instantly became one of the coach’s favourites. As a result of his technical dexterity, he became a regular starter for the Spaniard’s team. 

He has largely benefited from his time on the pitch, having progressed immensely over the past four months. The proof is in the pudding, and Torres has scored seven goals and given a further six assists in 25 games.

One of the most significant negatives pertaining to having a player this useful for a manager is the fact that they tend to get overexploited. With regards to Torres, such is his importance to Xavi Hernandez that he almost never gets a chance to rest.

Torres was immediately under pressure to perform. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

This overuse of the Spanish international is not born out of the fact that there is no one to supplant him. Nimbly understood, Torres is of such immense importance to the team that, as it stands, he is essentially irreplaceable in the team’s left flank.

As a result, it is clear that he was experiencing immense fatigue. This is extremely visible in how he plays now, and was blatantly obvious even before the international break.

Torres had become all the more lethargic, resulting in the team performing poorer in attack than it ideally should.

While his aggregate form since arrival has been impeccable, the extent to which he was being utilised can only have one thing as a consequence; his form rapidly deteriorating. It is not as though there are no replacements in the squad. Xavi simply had no intentions whatsoever of using them.

Jordi Alba

For the past decade or so, Jordi Alba has been Barcelona’s first-choice left-back. The Spanish international has delivered a plethora of assists for the Catalan Giants and has solidified his status as a legend for the club.

His offensive nature in the role is almost unparalleled, explaining why he is of such importance to a possession heavy side like this.

Over the course of this season, he has, under Xavi Hernandez, taken up new roles in the left-back position.

Rather than making his typical runs in behind and playing crosses from the byline, he prefers to join the midfield and play them from the second quarter of the pitch into the penalty area. 

This season he has ten assists in the league, the second-highest tally in the squad and the highest of any defender in all of La Liga.

His uniqueness is just as much a strength for him as it is becoming a weakness. Alba is, to Barcelona’s dismay, the only first-team left-back that the team has.

Run ragged. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

Consequently, he ends up becoming overused by his manager, and this is something that initially was by default but which is now becoming by design.

Alternatives do exist for him in the team however, given Alba’s proficiency and his role, they are all neglected. As such, his productivity varies from week to week, something Barcelona cannot afford to do at such a crucial point in the campaign.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Having joined Barcelona in the winter transfer window, there was little that was expected from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Gabon international was coming off of two rather dull seasons with Arsenal, and many suspected that him making the switch to Catalunya was not going to yield [m]any results.

Despite the pessimism that surrounded his signing, he has proven many of his doubters wrong — for the most part. 

He became the fastest player to score a La Liga hat-trick, the fastest player to score eight goals in the league. On his El Clasico debut, he scored twice and provided an assist in a 0-4 victory away from home.

With regards to his sheer productivity, he is the best striker in the team; even though mathematically, he is only its second top goal scorer. Much like his counterparts in the team, Aubameyang is suffering from his own success.

BARCELONA, SPAIN – MAY 10: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of FC Barcelona reacts during the La Liga Santander match between FC Barcelona and RC Celta de Vigo at Camp Nou on May 10, 2022 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Despite a promising first ten matches for the garnet and blue, the Barça number 25 was gradually losing form. He is not scoring at the heights at which he previously did, and his performances are becoming all the more lethargic with every passing week. 

Much like with Torres, reports have also stated that he is suffering from fatigue, others showing that after the game, he left limping, and understandably so.

Given the extent that Xavi is using his best players, some are bound to struggle to handle all the way that is being placed upon them, and crumble under it. Aubameyang is simply a negative consequence of a problem of scarcity in this Barcelona squad.

Pedri Gonzalez

Having returned from injury in January of this year, Pedri Gonzalez quickly became a fan-favourite. According to many, his performance has granted him the label of the best player in this current Barcelona squad, given how many consistently brilliant performances he racked up for the Catalan Giants.

Pedri has been highly productive since his return not only with goals and assists, which he has contributed at a much higher rate than he did in the previous campaign, but his overall play gives Barcelona a constant Edge over their opponents.

The Spaniard’s pressing is as pristine as ever, and his creativity, both directly and indirectly, has increased tenfold.

Given Pedri is the team’s most creative midfielder, it is natural that the manager will want to use him to the maximum of his capacity. Xavi Hernandez cannot be blamed for wanting to use a footballer with as much quality as he possesses. 

Undroppable at 19. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN/AFP via Getty Images)

He can, however, be blamed for the extent that he was making use of him. It was not as though the team lacks substitutes, but the Puppet Master does not make enough use of them.

The results? Having suffered an injury because of a muscle overload following the ludicrous use that was made of him in the previous campaign, Pedri picked up an injury vs Eintracht Frankfurt and then missed the rest of the season.

His injuries could have been easily avoided had Xavi been keener to make rotations in the team. At this point, it would be worth nothing crying over spilt milk. What the manager can do with this point, rather than sulk, is to make amends for his mistakes by not repeating them again.

What solutions can Xavi use?

Substitutes

With regards to Ferran Torres, there are two available options. The first would be that of Ez Abde. During the brief stint in which Ousmane Dembele did not want to extend his contract, which is yet to do anyway, the Moroccan was one of Barcelona’s most important players. 

His proficiency from the wing was greatly utilised by the manager, and he displayed a great deal of ambidexterity. This is especially useful for a team which did not have much wing power at the time. 

Abde’s proficiency from the wider areas was integral to the functioning of Xavi Hernandez’s side and the time; however it seems that at the moment that he has descended into irrelevance. 

Ferran Jugtla was another option that Xavi Hernandez could have incorporated into the team. Much like Torres, he could function both as a winger and a striker. He can drift into spaces in the final third, and his finishing is something which under the right hands can be taken advantage of. 

Did Xavi under-use Jutgla? (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

Pablo Gavi and Nico Gonzalez had both been used by Xavi Hernandez over the course of the season. In Pedri’s absence, the pair was used extensively, and now the onus is on the manager to make use of them again next season.

Nico, specifically, gradually fell down the pecking order in the team. This is despite his clutch performances for the team, which he can quickly recover should he be given more time on the pitch. 

The Spaniard is of immense importance to the garnet and a blue, and his talents should be taken advantage of should Barça want to consolidate their place in the league table.

With regards to Gavi, he was already well integrated into the team however, now with Pedri out of the picture, Xavi cannot risk making the same mistake again. Rotations are a must between both players if Barcelona are to perform to the best of their ability.

It is quite comprehensible that Xavi Hernandez would want to use Jordi Alba weekly, however, that this comes at the detriment of the team’s productivity is something that cannot be sustained any longer.

As of last season, there was an alternative in Alejandro Balde, which desperately needs to be made use of.

The Spaniard was granted a release clause of €500 million, however, he’s never given a chance to display why this is the case. Having been given chances under Ronald Koeman, he is yet to receive any of the same treatment under Xavi.

Balde certainly has a long way to go until he becomes the precise mould that Xavi wants, however, to not make use of someone as dexterous as he is, is criminal. 

If experience is the worry for Xavi, then should have made use of the last few matches which had very little consequence, to give Balde precisely the experience he lacks. There is no going wrong in allowing Alba a chance to rest, as well as a youngster a chance to prove himself.

Given the extent to which Aubameyang has been overused, this is where Luuk de Jong should have come into the picture.

The Dutchman has proven to be a very important figure for the Catalan Giants as a substitute, however, in matches against lower-league opposition, there was no need for him to start from the bench.

Such teams often play with deep blocks, and the Barça number 17 could have been of immense use in breaking down such defences.

Why so? This is because against such sides, crossing into the penalty area is the best way to unlock their defences. Barcelona should have made better use of his heading ability, something which someone like Memphis Depay struggled to offer against Cadiz.

Luuk proved to be valuable, yet underused. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

Making use of the transfer market

Each and every single one of the aforementioned players can receive incremental upgrades should Xavi Hernandez look to the transfer market.

Raphinha Belotti

Raphinha has been one of the best wingers in the Premier League this season. His dynamic nature on the ball has been crucial to Leeds United all through this campaign.

He has already been linked severally with Barcelona, and should he make the switch to the Catalan capital, then he will add an extra layer of quality on top of what is becoming a very stacked attack.

Given his individual quality, Xavi will be more prompted to rotate his players, as he will have someone who cannot be questioned as much as the youngsters behind him.

Franck Kessie

In his last season for AC Milan, Kessie has been, yet again, crucial to his team, en route their first Serie A trophy in over a decade.

His dynamic nature on the ball has been crucial to his team’s performances. Having already been rumoured with Barcelona, he is someone who will provide Frenkie de Jong with a chance to gain significant rest.

Fantastic addition. (Photo by Chris Ricco/Getty Images)

The Ivorian international essentially has an extra pair of lungs; he is tireless. Given his individual quality on the ball, he can be trusted to give the younger and older players in the team more rest and allow for more rotations on a weekly basis.

Should Barcelona manage to secure his signature at the start of next season, then the Catalans will benefit both from his dexterity as well as more of a chance to enjoy that of Pedri with the extra rest he will be able to get.

Alex Grimaldo

Having left Barcelona just a few years ago, Grimaldo is once again on Barça’s radar. This season with Benfica, he has been quite phenomenal, demonstrating increased maturity with every passing week, and he is at just the right age to come to Catalunya and embark on an entirely new era for the garnet and blue.

Jordi Alba will probably still be the team’s first-choice left-back should Grimaldo make his return, however his arrival does open up the possibility that there will be more rotations in the left-back role.

Furthermore, this will mean that the reconstruction of the team can be closer to completion, with Alba gradually getting phased out of the team.

Robert Lewandowski

Given he seems to be ageing like wine, Robert Lewandowski coming to Barcelona would be excellent in increasing the quality of Barça’s bench.

It is not that he will be the one acting as the rotational player, but with him as a starter, Barcelona will have more options from the bench, and of higher quality.

With him, Aubameyang will have more of a passive presence, however, one, which means that whenever the pole is taken off the pitch, Barcelona always have someone at their beck and call to perform from the bench. 

These four signings could go a long way in increasing Barcelona’s chances of avoiding the exact set of problems which they are suffering from at the moment.

The Catalan Giants simply cannot afford to have the injury epidemics they have so long suffered from hurting them when they need plays the most.

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