More questions will be asked of Barcelona manager Xavi after his team lost a dramatic game 3-4 at home to Villarreal.
Barca were dreadful in the early stages and went 2-0 shortly after half-time before finding some spirit and turning the game around. But from 3-2, the champions capitualted, conceding three late goals. The defeat leaves them 10 points behind leaders Real Madrid and eight behind second-placed Girona. They have now conceded 16 goals in their past five games.
As Frenkie de Jong told TV after the game: “If you’re 2-0 down, then 3-2 winning, you cannot just almost gift these things and lose the game. That just can’t happen in a top team, with experience.”
The result comes after Barca’s hopes of domestic cup glory this season vanished within the space of 10 days earlier this month; a humiliating 4-1 Spanish Supercopa final loss to Real Madrid was soon followed by a midweek exit to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey.
This is what it all means.
What went wrong for Barca?
This was a prime example of what Xavi’s Barcelona have been this season: a side that is unable to create real trouble to the opposition, while in defence they are extremely sloppy.
They conceded the first goal after a throw-in, and then threw away a three-goal comeback due to an astonishing lack of defensive cohesion. There were individual mistakes all around, from Andreas Christensen to Joao Cancelo to Inaki Peña. But that’s not new. That’s what’s been going on all season at the club.
Pedri’s entrance at half-time and his teaming up with Lamine Yamal and Ilkay Gundogan fueled Barcelona into coming back from two goals down. As soon as Gundogan scored the first goal, Montjuic stadium erupted and Barcelona gained momentum.
But as soon as the mission was completed, they crumbled. There are many problems inside and around FC Barcelona at the minute. We can point to the transfer policy, to the financial situation or even to the injuries the team have suffered. But the reality is Barcelona have not played football at the standards they could at any point this season. Among all the drama, this is mainly a football issue.
What now for Xavi?
It would still be surprising to see him fired soon, but if there’s a run of results that can get him the sack before the summer, Barcelona are heading towards it.
When asked about Xavi’s position, Barca sources have been adamant that they trust the manager. In the background there’s the financial spectrum, which effectively make it very difficult for Barcelona to afford sacking Xavi right now – it would have an impact on their current salary limit and there’s no replacement in sight.
The only scenario that would force Barcelona into make a decision and potentially pulling the trigger would be seeing their position in La Liga’s top four at risk. The club simply can’t afford to miss out on Champions League football, and if that requires shaking the dressing room up and trusting second team’s manager Rafael Marquez to take over, that’s what they will do.
In the meantime De Jong backed the manager, saying: “There is full faith in the mister, the coaching staff are doing good work, we players are to blame, we have the talent, if it’s not shown, it’s our fault.”
What now for Christensen after being subbed at half-time?
This felt like a bold call.
Being subbed off at half-time for 17-year-old Pau Cubarsi can’t be seen in any other way than Xavi pointing the finger at Christensen for the first goal which, to be fair, was a pretty bad one.
Cubarsi has impressed Xavi in the last two games, but last night the manager granted Christensen the chance to impress. He failed.
Now the 27-year-old might find a tough way back to Xavi’s starting line-up in the coming months. Seeing Christensen falling out of favour is not a new thing this season. In fact, as The Athletic reported weeks ago, the centre-back had felt frustrated earlier this season with Xavi’s team selections, as he saw himself as the first defender to be left out on the bench whenever Barca had all their center-backs fit.
Jules Kounde had had a meeting with Xavi before the start of the season admitting he did not enjoy himself playing as a right-back. Ronald Araujo also said he does not like playing out of position. Christensen, who remained quiet, saw himself benched at the start of the season despite being one of the best performers in Barcelona’s La Liga conquest last campaign.
This loss of confidence between player and manager has been combined with the recurrent physical problems, which have discouraged Barcelona’s coaching staff.
Christensen’s major mistake against Villarreal hinted that 17-year-old Pau Cubarsi might have taken over him in Xavi’s eyes too.
(David Ramos/Getty Images)
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