Xavi’s tiki-taka imaginative and prescient thrills Camp Nou — however can it final?

Barcelona has climbed from ninth to fourth beneath the previous midfield maestro, who has emphasised a return to the membership’s celebrated taking part in model. But already beneath extreme monetary strain, Barca cannot afford to overlook out on Champions League soccer

Barcelona has climbed from ninth to fourth beneath the previous midfield maestro, who has emphasised a return to the membership’s celebrated taking part in model. But already beneath extreme monetary strain, Barca cannot afford to overlook out on Champions League soccer

Barcelona appeared a membership each damaged and heart-broken after talisman Lionel Messi’s departure final 12 months, and so it was no shock that information of Xavi Hernandez’s return, after 2,373 days away, was accompanied by waves of aid and euphoria in Catalonia’s capital metropolis.

Both icon and ideologue, the midfield maestro was one of many driving forces behind Barcelona’s celebrated taking part in model and spectacular success between 2004 and 2015, when it received an unbelievable seven LaLiga titles and 4 Champions League trophies. His appointment as coach was confirmed final November, initially of the worldwide break. The crackle of pleasure that preceded his unveiling was electrical.

Xavi was the primary Barcelona coach to be offered on the pitch in entrance of followers on the 99,000-capacity Camp Nou stadium, with the routine often reserved for the membership’s greatest signings. His makes an attempt to thank the gang had been thwarted by the sound of them chanting his identify.

“I am very excited,” he informed the followers. “We are the best club in the world and we will work hard to be successful. Barca can’t be satisfied with draws or losses. We have to win every match.” He said he was moved by the welcome and chanted along with the crowd. “We need you,” Xavi informed the followers. “Especially during the bad moments. We are in a difficult situation as a club. We need you more than ever.”

Xavi did not undersell the level of difficulty. Barcelona had slid down the ranks of the elite and was in unfamiliar territory. When the 42-year-old took over from Ronald Koeman, the club was ninth, six points adrift of the fourth and final Champions League spot. It had conceded more goals than Espanyol and Rayo Vallecano, both of whom had just come up from the second division. It had won none of its four previous league games, and Xavi’s first priority was — and remains — a top-four finish to ensure the financial security of Champions League football.

A quick-fix option had seemed remote, with the club still desperately trying to reduce record debts of more than a billion euros. The official club line was that “as it stands, there is nothing left” for signings in the January transfer window. Dismay at the club’s decline and Messi’s departure hung heavy around Camp Nou.

Understandably, the supporters were desperate for even the smallest sign of a revival. So it wasn’t starting that something as momentous as Xavi’s recruitment raised hopes that the club would begin a return to Europe’s elite. Several observers of Spanish football agreed that Xavi’s return would reignite the spark, through nostalgia and hope, if nothing else — but cautioned supporters to keep their expectations low.

They reminded fans of the fact that he was a largely untested, inexperienced manager and that he was taking charge at one of the world’s biggest clubs with all its attendant pressures. At Barcelona, ​​it isn’t enough to merely win; you must win with beautiful, slick football, dominating possession, passing circles around opponents, and scoring bagfuls of goals.

Almost 120 days into his reign, Xavi appears to have lifted Barcelona out of the gloom he had found it in. The club sits fourth on the LaLiga table, up five places, with eight wins, four draws and one loss under Xavi. It may have crashed out of the Champions League in the group stages — it had lost two of its first four league games before he took over, and drew against Benfica and lost to Bayern Munich during his first month at the helm — but it has looked a little more like its old self in recent months in Europe, albeit at one level lower, in the Europa League.

Its 4-2 away win over Napoli in Europe was sandwiched by a 4-1 victory on the road against Valencia and a 4-0 rout of Athletic Bilbao at home in the league — all within a seven-day period in the last week of February. It was the first time since May 2017 that Barcelona had scored four goals in three consecutive games. Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez had claimed 11 of those goals in 2017— echoes of a different, more successful era, which Xavi is attempting to reprise.

“The sensations are getting better and better,” Xavi said. “The team has been practicing very well and now the results are showing. [Against Napoli], we dominated for 90 minutes and that’s the first time we’ve done that since I became coach. It’s a win over a team which I repeat is a Champions League-level team, one which does not concede many goals and is fighting for the league title.” The win that adopted was additionally in opposition to a miserly protection.

Athletic had the third finest protection within the league — having conceded simply 21 targets, bettered solely by Sevilla (17) and Real Madrid (20) — earlier than Barcelona took it aside. “Against a rival that defends well, with a medium and low block, we have scored three goals at the end, but we have had a solid game,” Xavi mentioned. “We are going to grow. We are working with humility. It’s very good for the harmony of the fans.”

There are several reasons for Barcelona’s improvement under Xavi, but two are immediately obvious: a return to its playing roots and a smart January transfer window, which saw the arrivals of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Adama Traore and Ferran Torres, who have already contributed six goals and seven assists in 18 appearances combined. After the win over Napoli last week, defender Gerard Pique highlighted both of these facets.

“We went back to the origins, to have the ball. For a while we stopped doing it. Who was to blame? A little bit of everyone, it’s not fair to target anyone. Decisions were made that were not appropriate,” Pique said. “Now there is a base in which the team feels confident. We have reinforced very well in January, now we have real weapons up front. All that is happening is a continuous improvement in the game, which sometimes translates into good results and sometimes not, but the line is ascending.”

The fourth objective in opposition to Napoli, which noticed each Barcelona participant contact the ball through the course of a 23-pass transfer earlier than Aubameyang discovered the again of the online, was a glimpse of what Xavi’s work on the coaching subject has achieved.

“I know where I’m at,” he mentioned. “These 22, 23 touches… that’s what people like. We want to implement the style again that made us great. We can win or lose but we want the people to identify with the style of play, that’s fundamental. We continue to work on this. I know this week I received praise, but we know next week the opposite can happen.”

Barcelona’s supervisor additionally seems to have struck a chord together with his gamers. “We are enjoying winning, Xavi gave us a new energy and he is giving great advice to the youngsters,” 19-year-old midfielder Pedri, who Xavi has likened to the good Andres Iniesta, mentioned. “We are enjoying ourselves right now.”

The dealing with of Ousmane Dembele appears one other instance of Xavi’s man-management abilities. The mercurial expertise was informed by Barcelona that he may depart if he refused to signal a brand new contract, however bitter negotiations resulted in a stalemate. Xavi has reintegrated Dembele in the previous few weeks.

When Xavi introduced him on in its place in opposition to Napoli, Dembele was greeted by screeching whistles from indignant house supporters. Yet Xavi seems to have managed the scenario as easily as doable, with Dembele scoring a surprising objective in opposition to Athletic and going over to have a good time together with his coach, who gave him a hug and an approving pat on the pinnacle.

While Barcelona followers have begun to dream massive, Xavi, who has obtained criticism for the crew’s frailties in protection, provided a extra clear-eyed evaluation. “We still lose a lot of unnecessary balls,” he mentioned. “We have to be embarrassed by shedding these balls. We have to be liable for our actions and defend higher. Defend higher from set performs. We have quite a lot of factors we have to enhance however it’s additionally evident we’re bettering so much. In our present scenario, each match is sort of a closing for us.”

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