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Three things Xavi still needs to improve so Barcelona can win a title this season

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Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

After the highs of last season, during which they won the La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup, Barcelona have not been at their best in the current campaign.

Things were so dire at a certain point that manager Xavi Hernandez opted to announce his decision to leave the club at the end of the season, following the harrowing defeat to Villarreal.

Since then, however, things have taken a turn for the positive for Barcelona as they have strung together a fine run of form that sees them in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League and second place in La Liga.

As things stand, Barça are eight points shy of Real Madrid in La Liga – with a Clasico yet to be played.

On the European front, they face PSG, who have not been at their best this season, and if they go past them, a semi-final vs Atletico Madrid or Borussia Dortmund awaits.

While still a gargantuan task, the possibility of Barcelona still winning a trophy before the end of the season remains alive and as Xavi said after the win against Atletico Madrid, it is the time to dream.

However, the manager and his staff will need to improve upon several areas if Barcelona are to stand a chance of adding a trophy to their cabinet this season.

In-game management

One of the major gripes against Xavi has been his in-game management and substitutions that often leave fans puzzled.

The reluctance to call on attackers like Vitor Roque and Marc Guiu in situations when goals are needed, the lack of minutes for the former in general, and his insistence on using Sergi Roberto in unfavourable situations like the Copa del Rey tie vs Athletic Club are some examples.

On Sunday night against Atletico, there was a case for Xavi to relieve the likes of Ilkay Gundogan and Robert Lewandowski with the game in the bag. Instead, he opted to take off players like Sergi Roberto, who would not be involved in the international break.

There was also a case for Lamine Yamal to be not brought on as early as Xavi did, with Raphinha playing well and the youngster needing to be looked after.

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Xavi’s substitutions have often been questionable. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

It is an area that the manager must improve if he is to outwit the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Luis Enrique in the weeks to come.

Killing off matches

This is an area that has been long held against Xavi and his team and something that needs to be addressed. There have been many occasions in which Barcelona started well but allowed the opponents to get back into the match.

The two matches against Napoli in the Round of 16 of the Champions League are examples, although the Catalans were able to get the job done ultimately.

There have been way too many instances of the team relying on late goals to win or draw matches when they had chances to close off the game much earlier – something that Robert Lewandowski highlighted in a recent interview.

For Barça to be able to lift a trophy before the end of the season, the team must learn to take their chances when they come up and kill matches.

At this stage of the competition, against top teams like PSG in the UCL, it will be crucial to make your moments count.

Set-piece goals

Another major aspect that Barcelona need to work on is their scoring rate from set-piece goals. Their poor record when it comes to direct goals from free-kicks since Lionel Messi’s exit is a well-known fact.

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Ferran Torres scored a direct free-kick goal vs Betis in Sep 2023. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Indeed, Ferran Torres’ goal against Real Betis in September was Barça’s first in over two years. Since that strike, they have not added to the tally either and have been guilty of spurning some chances from set-pieces from great positions.

Not only direct free-kicks, but Barcelona can improve upon their goals from indirect free-kicks and corners as well.

One only needs to look at Arsenal in the Premier League to learn how important that aspect of the game can be. The Gunners have scored 20+ set-piece goals (including penalties), with some of their corner and free-kick routines standing out.

Improvement on that front could help Barcelona gain an advantage over their opponents in the final stretch of the season.

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