PETE JENSON: Xavi won’t be sacked yet but Barcelona’s fears he was ‘not ready’ are growing with the club on the brink of ANOTHER Champions League exit… the tide is turning against the young coach – who still looks raw
- Barcelona could soon be playing in the Europa League after drawing with Inter
- The Catalan side are top of LaLiga but are struggling in the Champions League
- Boss Xavi could find himself under pressure and has shown he is still raw
- He won’t be sacked but questions are being asked after fears he was ‘not ready’
Barcelona will not be firing Xavi for failing to reach the Champions League knockout stages, but we may be just another bad result away from president Joan Laporta reminding everyone why he originally had reservations over the young coach.
Laporta said he was reluctant to sack Ronald Koeman because Xavi was ‘not ready’ – on Wednesday night he looked ill-prepared for the challenge of seeing off Inter and only his status at the club saved him on Thursday morning from the sort of local media mauling that would have been met by Koeman.
‘We had talked about that,’ said Xavi several times in his post-match press conference. Asked if he should take some of the responsibility he added: ‘Of course. If the defenders mess up it’s on me.’ That was hardly taking responsibility.
The tide could be turning against Xavi at Barcelona with the club on the brink of an exit from the Champions League group stages
The Spanish giants drew 3-3 against Inter Milan – leaving their hopes of reaching the knockout stages in tatters
The way he pointed the finger of blame at his defenders will not have gone down well with Gerard Pique in particular. In the long term that will not matter.
This might even have been Pique’s last Champions League game for Barcelona but there was a reluctance to take responsibility and a willingness to blame players that will have resonated, in a negative way, with the rest of the squad.
Xavi can argue that he wanted Cesar Azpilicueta at right back and Bernardo Silva added to his midfield. The latter was always beyond the club’s budget but the former should have been a priority and might have made a difference on Wednesday night.
There has also been bad luck with injuries. Of all the players Xavi did not want to lose Jules Kounde and Ronald Araujo were top of the list. They are the only centre-backs with the pace to play the high line that Xavi wants to play. The team was cruelly exposed without them.
Xavi is still raw as a coach – and the club’s fears that he was ‘not ready’ for the role are growing
Barcelona sit third in their Champions League group – and if Inter beat pointless Viktoria Plzen in their next game then they’ll be dumped out before they even play Bayern Munich
Xavi did play a big part in the what the club was able to do in the summer. So he needs to answer the question: Why did it not occur to them that their ageing midfield anchor, Sergio Busquets, had no substitute? They signed a third full-back and a third winger and left Busquets as the only defensive midfield option.
With Busquets struggling to cover quick counters and without the team’s quickest defenders there should have been more flexibility from Xavi but he is married to his defensive high line and he stayed true to that plan even when it was suicidal against a team with Denzel Dumfries and company marauding into the open spaces.
He has inherited a difficult situation with the veterans – that much is true. While Real Madrid get their greatest players out the door before they have faded to a shadow of their former selves – Casemiro and Ronaldo were sold for around €170m (£148m) – Barcelona are still trying to persuade Jordi Alba and Pique to leave at the end of the season so the club has no need to pay them until 2024.
But the signings were made in the summer so Xavi would not have to play the two defenders.
President Joan Laporta had reservations about hiring Xavi, but has no plans to fire him yet
Barcelona have had bad luck with injuries this season and still lack quality in midfield
He said after the draw that the team had been cursed since the Bayern Munich game and it’s true they could have scored three in the first half in Germany and were hard done by against Inter in Milan when Dumfries’ handball was ignored. The group was also much tougher than they wanted. These excuses are valid, but they will count for little as the pressure mounts.
Xavi is clearly still raw. Some of the mistakes made against Inter in the first game were repeated in the second. Marcos Alonso was ineffective in the first leg against but he was still first choice ahead of Alex Balde in the second match.
Questions will also be asked of Xavi’s coaching staff. While Real Madrid look better conditioned than ever, Barcelona are struggling physically and there has been a failure to manage Ansu Fati back to his peak – that may or may not be the fault of the club.
The squad are struggling physically under Xavi, with their rivals looking better conditioned
Xavi was brought in to lead Barcelona back the latter stages of a competition they have not won since he was on the pitch as a player. As it is they could be back in the Europa League before they kick-off their next Champions League game against Bayern Munich in a fortnight.
If Inter win the earlier match against Viktoria Plzen then Barça’s game against Robert Lewandowski’s former club in front of 90,000 at the Camp Nou becomes something of a non-event.
Will there be 90,000 in the stadium with that prospect a real possibility? The atmosphere around the club will be key in the next few weeks.
Winning this Sunday’s Clasico to stay top of LaLiga will see to it that the season is not written off before the break for the World Cup – losing at the Santiago Bernabeu and the gloom around the decision to entrust Xavi with building a new Barca will really descend.