Barcelona, Mar 21 (EFE).- Barcelona’s 4-0 rout of Real Madrid consolidated the team’s remarkable improvement under Xavi Hernandez, who has managed to reinvent the Catalan club since he returned to the Camp Nou 134 days ago.
The former Barca player took the helm in November 2021, with the team languishing in ninth in LaLiga, closer to the relegation zone than to the top 6 and European qualification.
A mere four months and a half later, having lost just once in their 16 matches under Xavi, Barcelona are nipping at the heels of second-placed Sevilla and they are tipped to win the Europa League.
Xavi has managed to strike a balance of young and experience, to help players who had seemed lost on the pitch regain their form and reinforce the squad with some much needed signings.
The 42-year-old, who spent his entire playing career at Camp Nou, has repeatedly said that Barcelona have to be true to their DNA: applying high pressure, controlling the ball and dominate positionally.
“We still need to understand the way we want to play football,” he said a few weeks after taking the helm.
“It’s strange that there are Barça players who don’t understand the positional game,” he added.
At the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday, however, his players showed that they are beginning to understand the approach that has given Barça so much success in the last three decades.
Xavi’s other challenge has been to inspire the squad’s older guard, some of whom he shared the pitch with before hanging up his boots in 2019, without stifling the growth of the club’s next generation of rising talent.
Goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, defenders Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba and midfield lynchpin Sergio Busquets remain indisputable starters, while youngsters Pedri and Ronald Araujo have already started to emerge as leaders.
The young players’ energy has proved to be contagious as Xavi’s former teammates have regained top form.
He also managed to get the best out of Frenkie de Jong, who prior to Xavi’s arrival had shown promise but had been inconsistent, and Ousmane Dembele, who has gone from being unwanted and excluded from the roster for not renewing his contract to becoming a major role player for the team.
During the winter transfer window, Barcelona signed Ferran Torres, Adama Traore on loan from Wolverhampton and Dani Alves and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as free agents.
The Gabonese has hit the ground running, and his brace against Real Madrid brought his tally to nine goals in 11 matches he has played since joining the Catalan club.
Ferran Torres, who scored the third at the Bernabeu, has also cemented his place in Xavi’s 11 since his return from Manchester City, where he struggled to make the starting lineup.
The arrivals have seen Barcelona score 40 goals in 17 games they have played in 2022, an average of 2.3 goals per game, compared to 1.2 goals per game during the first half of the season. EFE