The mission for Xavi’s men in the coming season is twofold.
The first goal is concrete. Make it two in a row in La Liga. To do so, the team will need depth to deliver consistent performances and survive their main rival in Real Madrid.
As the reigning champions, Barcelona theoretically already have everything they need to repeat. Instead, big question marks surround Real Madrid, who can no longer rely on their aging superstars.
The second metric of success is more obscure. You can’t just say Barca are going to go out and win the Champions League given the scale of the challenge, although frankly that’s exactly what we should be saying as it’s an expectation built into the fabric of Real Madrid as a club.
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In short, Barcelona must show that they are a serious contender in Europe again. This means they must be seen as a Champions League threat in the eyes of their opponents and embrace the pressure of the competition rather than having ready-made excuses for falling short.
Last season they were unlucky to draw Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. Bayern is a perennial favorite in Europe and Inter were a recent Serie A winner.
Still, we all expected Barcelona to get out of the group.
In the end, it was Bayern Munich’s mystique that defeated Barcelona in both games, not the play on the pitch. From a performance point of view, Barca outplayed the Germans for large parts of the first leg, and should have gone into half-time with a two-goal lead as the away team.
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They were canceled out by an unmarked header from a corner and self-destructed from there after being cut up by Leroy Sane five minutes later.
This was the first game of the group stage and perhaps with a bit of luck the momentum could have shifted and their fortunes in the competition could have changed.
Against Inter they were again dominant on the ball and took 72% of possession, but went down 1-0 due to some unfortunate decisions from the referee and a golazo against the run of play in first half stoppage time.
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In both games, however, the real story was Xavi’s selection.
Marcos Alonso was chosen ahead of Alejandro Balde throughout the group stages, just as the young Spaniard was breaking out en route to a surprise World Cup call-up.
Sergi Roberto was also in the defensive line. Enough said.
The thing about the Champions League is that there is no margin for error. You can play well but get knocked out because of a defensive lapse.
That was the story of Barcelona last season and Xavi was the main culprit due to the choices he made, although admittedly there were significant injuries to Ronald Araujo in particular.
So what do Barcelona need to be more effective in the Champions League next season?
A more favorable group would help.
Xavi must also pick his strongest team and make the right tactical decisions to best serve his team given the format and nature of the tournament.
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But the follow-up question to that is whether the Barcelona team from last season was good enough to make a deep run, meaning they were just unlucky, or whether they need to make a big summer signing to compete with the best in Europe.
Manchester City was the best team in the world but they are losing key players. Will they still be the benchmark for greatness in the future?
I wouldn’t bet against Pep Guardiola who will never depend on one or two players. Ilkay Gundogan may be gone, but that might just mean Phil Foden gets his chance to step up and break out as the team’s next hero.
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After Manchester City, who is the second best in Europe?
There is no one you can point to.
It’s an open field and Barcelona is right there in it.
My concern is not that Barca lack a superstar, but that the team lacks depth in key positions, with Xavi unconvinced by many of his own players who are not in his chosen starting eleven.
The defensive line is formidable when healthy, but what happens if one of them suffers an injury?
Will we see Marcos Alonso or Sergi Roberto again? The answer right now is yes, and that’s a red flag that can’t be ignored.
For Barcelona to be in the best position to go deeper in Europe, the conversation should start and end with strengthening the defensive line in all four positions.
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The team still does not have a right-back, and after losing Jordi Alba, they are also thin on the left. Could Arnau Martinez or Ivan Fresneda, or someone at that level, be the answer?
If they are brought in, Xavi really needs to be convinced, because they don’t come cheap.
Should the club focus on the centre-backs and go with the trend of having one of them deputize as a full-back to neutralize a dangerous winger?
To that end, it seems that the arrival of Inigo Martinez is inevitable and will certainly be a boost for the team.
Barca should not stop there, especially if Xavi has serious concerns about Eric Garcia.
Midfield is very solid at the moment as long as Manchester City don’t swoop in and steal Frenkie de Jong.
Question marks surround the front line.
Who will back Robert Lewandowski?
Xavi seems to be happy with Raphinha, who actually had a very lively show in the group stage, and Ousmane Dembele.
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But after that, his confidence seems to be very low with what is left.
Does he rate Ez Abde? Apart from Dembele, this is the one winger who can run at defenders and create one on one.
Could he have a plan to use Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres if it is not possible to move them?
If Barcelona are to compete with the big boys, they need a full list of options and contingencies.
That doesn’t mean they have to spend €100 million on a new signing, but it does mean Xavi will have to have a plan and show confidence in all his players.
This is his team now and he will have no excuses if things go wrong.
At the end of the day, it might be less about the players and more about the manager.
Does Xavi have what it takes to lead Barca back to the promised land?
All eyes are on him.