Xavi’s Barcelona report card: The Nou Camp icon has the fans back onside and talented youngsters like Gavi are thriving… but he still can’t get the best out of Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho almost two months in
- Xavi is slowly but surely starting to see improvements with his Barcelona squad
- The style of play is starting to change and fans are getting behind the cult hero
- Barca are still in seventh in LaLiga and are some way behind rivals Real Madrid
- Sportsmail passes verdict on Xavi’s work and rates him in different departments
Xavi’s Baby Barca played their last game of 2021 on Tuesday night and it left supporters feeling optimistic about what next year will bring.
But after the 1-1 draw at Sevilla, they are still stuck down in seventh place in LaLiga, barely able to see runaway leaders Real Madrid in the distance.
So what’s the verdict on Xavi’s first term? Here’s Sportsmail’s report card on his progress so far.
The tide is slowly turning for Xavi as Barcelona manager, but there is a long road ahead
Playing form: B+
Xavi’s ideas could not be clearer. Every player knows what he wants from them, even if some are just not able to deliver it.
The team is playing with a high defensive line, which worked to great effect against Sevilla when Rafa Mir raced away to score, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside.
It’s more or less 4-3-3 with the lateral midfielders expected to make runs beyond a centre-forward who drops deep when he can, and with wingers playing high and wide to open the pitch.
It’s straight out of Pep Guardiola’s Barca team from 2008 onwards, even if the chasm between the quality of player that he had and that Xavi has is enormous.
They have been entertaining to watch and against Sevilla they managed 15 shots in the first half – a record in LaLiga this season.
Every player knows what Xavi wants from them even if some are just not able to deliver it
Fan reaction: A+
He doubled the attendance in just one match when twice as many people turned up to see Barcelona against Espanyol in Xavi’s first game than did to see Ronald Koeman’s last match in charge.
They chanted his name at the start of that first game and while we have gone down a notch or two since then – especially after the side were dumped out of the Champions League – there is still a belief in what Xavi is trying to do.
Most supporters believe there has been an improvement in the way the team plays since he replaced Koeman.
Fans are generally pleased with Xavi and believe the style of football is improving greatly
Player reaction: B-
The likes of 17-year-old Gavi and 19-year-old Nico were already playing way beyond expectation for players so young before Xavi, but they seem to have been instilled with extra belief since he arrived.
If Gavi was a world beater under Koeman, he’s a master of the universe with Xavi telling him how good he can be.
He also seems to have convinced 20-year-old Abde Ezzalzouli that he can join the party and the young Moroccan winger has not needed a second invitation – even if he did looked nonplussed when a TV interviewer asked him what it was Xavi was asking him to do, saying: ‘you’ve caught me out with that question’.
Starlet Gavi is flourishing under Xavi’s leadership and clearly looks up to the new manager
Taking everyone along with him: D-
This just has not happened.
Even with the injury and suspension list lengthening, Xavi has not been able to rejuvenate Philippe Coutinho, who has spent most of the new dawn sat watching from the bench.
Likewise Luuk de Jong has gone from a striker lacking in confidence to someone who knows that this January he will either be sent back to Sevilla or be loaned out somewhere else.
And for all Xavi’s talk of Ousmane Dembele being potentially the best in the world in his position, as of yet he still hasn’t scored this season or signed a new contract.
Xavi talked up Ousmane Dembele’s abilities but the striker is yet to score, or sign a new deal
Lucky coach: B+
He should probably never have won that first game in charge against Espanyol.
The opposition had the chances to at least take a point. And if not for a glaring miss in the final moments against Benfica, Barcelona’s Champions League chances would never even have made it to the final group game in Munich.
That was when the Spanish were talking about him being a lucky manager (A flower growing out of his backside, is the colloquial way they describe all fortunate coaches).
But it has not taking long for lady luck to treat him much as she treated Koeman – there is no sign of Ansu Fati being fit and available and each game brings new problems. Against Mallorca at the start of 2022 he will be without the suspended Sergio Busquets and Gavi.
Xavi knows he should probably never have won that first game in charge against Espanyol
Dealing with the media as Mr Barca: A+
He has been positive and forthright from the start. He ducks no questions and manages to combine honesty with optimism.
He has found new ways of saying Koeman’s favoured phrase: ‘it is what it is’ even though, unless reinforcements come in the winter market or players get fit again soon, that mantra will echo through the second half of the campaign.
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