Ronald Koeman’s sacking halfway through the 2021-22 season marked Barcelona’s lowest point in years.
Not only were the historically successful side on the verge of a UEFA Champions League exit, but also hanging dangerously close to the relegation zone on the league table.
13 La Liga games into the season, the Catalans had managed to muster just four wins. Five losses in the remaining nine games placed them at a desolate 16 points.
To put Barcelona’s remarkable turnaround this season, one is tempted to look towards last season’s champions Real Madrid.
The eventual winners clocked 86 points in their league campaign, with around 43 points each half. Still with a game in hand until the halfway mark, Xavi’s men already have 47 points and could hit the 100 points mark at their current run rate.
Joan Laporta took massive decisions in the summer of 2022 that helped his side sign world-class players in Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen.
Having put the future of the club at stake to activate the economic leaders, immediate success was a necessity at Spotify Camp Nou. The numbers detailed above go on to show that Xavi has not disappointed on that front.
Yet, the men in garnet and blue are far from done. A difficult and decisive second half of the campaign awaits them, and they seemingly must conquer the peaks without any winter reinforcements.
Truth be told, Barcelona’s attempts to sign a player on deadline day seemed to lean more on the tracks of a want than a need.
Like a child desperately looking in the local departmental store after being told he has the allowance, Barcelona hopelessly stared at every player available on loan on 31st January. The question now is – do the Catalans have enough in the tank to romp to victory, or was there a real need for reinforcements?
The twin concerns
In terms of pure quality and bench strength, very few sides in Europe can claim to have a roster superior to FC Barcelona. The La Liga leaders’ pioneering summer transfer window saw them fill most of the voids in their squad, and the depth at Xavi’s disposal is frightening.
Andreas Christensen, Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde and Eric Garcia fight for two starting spots in central defence. At left-back, the Catalans have an unreal set of options in Alejandro Balde, Jordi Alba and Marcos Alonso.
The midfield required no elaboration. Pedri, Gavi and Pablo Torre represented a generation of exceedingly gifted young midfielders, and when coupled with the experience of Frenkie de Jong, Franck Kessie, and Sergio Busquets, build a frightening sight.
Yet, there are two facets of the squad where the Azulgranas fall behind.
For starters, they do not have a starting quality right-back. Hector Bellerin was seen as a temporary plug to the leakage, but his poor form saw him transferred out six months before the end of his contract. Right now, the manager has only Sergi Roberto and the central defenders to trust on the right side.
The second discrepancy is, ironically, on the wing. Raphinha and Ousmane Dembele are both frightening forces on the right flank. However, the left-wing department is in a dire state despite having several names backing it.
Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres can claim to be amongst the best wingers in the world on their day but have both struggled with form this season. Memphis Depay’s departure from the club thus leaves Xavi in a situation of poverty amidst riches on the left flank.
A working system – grinding out wins
A problem is only a problem as long as it has no solution. Despite the serious hurdles thrown his way, Xavi has faced and navigated through the muddy waters with composure.
Indeed, it would be a luxury for the team to have a starting quality right-back, a new winger and a direct replacement for Sergio Busquets. However, neither of the aforementioned problems have stopped Barcelona this season and they have no reason to do so going forward.
The team’s consistency and ability to grind out wins, even on days when they seem off, is the hallmark of a champion. Further, there is now a renewed sense of assurance at the club that at least one player will step up his game and drag the team through every matchday.
Securing a five-point lead atop the league standings is no mean feat, and Barcelona have done so while also triumphing on other fronts.
They have been rampant against any opposition that commits a high line and leaves gaps out of possession. As their system goes from strength to strength in a memorable season, one is forced to ask – why change a working system?