Xavi is back, but how long will it take for Barcelona to recover?

From hot dog vendors to stadium gates, there are lines at Camp Nou. There was a palpable hubbub around the Les Corts area, which was long gone.

Xavi Hernandez is back, so are Barca. Barca who used to be victorious, or at least a strong signal back on the right path.

The vestiges of the Ernesto Valverde era previously followed by the even more ominous tenures of Quique Setien and Ronald Koeman all took away the enthusiasm and excitement of watching the game for many locals.

Between the pandemic and a team at its lowest point for decades, losing a star and mainstay in Lionel Messi, the attendance at stadiums has been very low. Only 37,000 supporters watched live Barca’s 1-1 draw with Alaves two weeks ago, when managed by interim coach Sergi Bajuan.

Since then, everything has changed. Xavi’s appointment has sparked excitement at Barcelona and the Camp Nou is buzzing again with enthusiasm for his second debut, eager to find out what he can bring to the club.

A 1-0 win over local rivals Espanyol in Sunday’s Catalan derby saw more than 74,000 supporters, double the previous crowd and some of them liked what they saw.

His expectations were sky high and conservatively low for Xavi. Comparisons with the arrival of Pep Guardiola in 2008 are unavoidable, but all recognize that the situation is different as Barca are now in a financial crisis, not to mention many injured players and the squad lacks quality strikers.

If the results don’t appear immediately, Xavi will be given time and patience. Partly because of his status as a club legend and partly because the club’s situation was so bad that it was impossible to hope for a miracle.

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Barcelona celebrate GFX

“We are us,” said Koeman, and he was not wrong, even if the loss was too heavy for the players and supporters to accept in an outspoken way.

If you don’t believe in yourself then you can’t achieve anything, and a lot of Xavi’s rhetoric in his first two weeks as a coach was about trying to get up and get back to basics. He wants to restore organization and professionalism at the club, and restore the club’s image and pride in the eyes of the world.

“Barca means winning,” he said during the introduction session, a promise of change. The return of Dani Alves is another hope, with 10,000 supporters welcoming the Brazilian back last week at Camp Nou.

“As long as there is a one per cent chance, we will have 99 per cent confidence,” Neymar said ahead of Barcelona’s famous remontada against Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 and that is the vibe that Xavi animates, in the minds of fans.

Of course, there was a lot of hard work to be done. Barcelona played well against Espanyol, in a ‘classic’ style. The 4-3-3 formation, massive possession, counter-pressing, wide wings spread across the pitch and a central midfielder playing between the lines, it’s everything fans expect from Xavi’s Barcelona.

The coach himself, with the support of the fans, watching live from the touchline, spoke to Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Eric Garcia during the break. He looks very different from Koeman, who is often seen sitting on the bench, silent and tends to do nothing when the team is in trouble.

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Xavi Philippe Coutinho Barcelona GFX

However, Barca did not necessarily play dominant. Espanyol were impressive at half-time, especially new Spain international Raul de Tomas, and in the late stages they could have scored again and again with Barcelona’s lethargy. The Blaugrana, as is often the case in the second half, looked exhausted.

“This is not a physical problem, this is a football problem,” Xavi said after the match. He asked his team to show more characters in the late stages of the game, stick to the scheme of the game instead of defending and trying to close the gap.

There are many problems that Xavi has to solve, starting with Benfica’s visit to Camp Nou in the Champions League on Wednesday (24/11). It’s a life and death game, with a win would guarantee Barca’s qualification for the last 16, while any other result would see them in danger of being knocked out.

Xavi will be missing several of his young talents, including teenage winger Ilias Akhomach who he surprisingly trusted in his debut against Espanyol. He is serving a card accumulation ban, while fellow youth players, Ez Abde and Ferran Jutgla are also unable to play because they were not registered for the Champions League.

With Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembele and Martin Braithwaite still out, Xavi is sorely short of ammunition in attack.

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Barca suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat in Lisbon to Benfica last September, which should have marked the end of Koeman’s tenure, but the Dutchman was still given a chance by president Joan Laporta, who proved to be reckless.

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A lot has changed since that game off the pitch, but fundamentally, Barcelona remains fragile. Against Benfica at the Camp Nou, we’ll see how far Xavi’s effect extends to Barcelona.

Victory will allow Xavi to maintain momentum and continue to provide an extension of breath to Barcelona who are in dire need of resuscitation.


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