Sunday night’s 4-0 ElClasico victory was a special one for FC Barcelona, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice and as Ferran Torres and Ronald Araújo found the back of the net too. The win cemented the team’s progress under Xavi, with the following five points proving key to Barça’s turnaround.
The impact of the winter arrivals
In the first half of the season, Barça struggled to convert the opportunities they created, having lost their all-time top goalscorer Lionel Messi in the summer. However, sporting director Mateu Alemany managed to secure some important deals in January to conjure up the firepower they desperately needed.
Dani Alves and Adama Traoré add a blend of creativity and power on the right flank as well as squad depth, while Ferran and Aubameyang have already established themselves as key players for Xavi.
Aubameyang has scored nine goals in his last eight games for Barça across all competitions, while establishing a great relationship on the pitch with Ferran, whom he set up with a backheel assist against Real Madrid.
Ferran, meanwhile, has netted four goals in his last four LaLiga Santander games and his movement has helped FC Barcelona step up several gears in attack. As well as their four ElClasico goals, Barça have hit four goals against Atlético de Madrid, Valencia CF, CA Osasuna and Athletic Club in the top flight, as well as SSC Napoli in the Europa League.
Xavi bringing back Barça’s style
Since Pep Guardiola and the late Tito Vilanova left FC Barcelona in 2012 and 2013 respectively, the Catalans have drifted away from their hallowed style of positional play and possession-driven football.
Luis Enrique capitalised on having three star forwards, in Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez, to play an end-to-end game which focused on getting them the ball as quickly as possible. Ernesto Valverde took a pragmatic approach which was successful domestically but not following the Barça blueprint first established by Johan Cruyff. Successors Quique Setién and then Ronald Koeman were either unable or unwilling to restore the style, but for Xavi it has been non-negotiable.
It has taken time for the players to understand Xavi’s methods but it is paying dividends, with Barça pressing high, playing with intensity and cherishing the ball.
With Aubameyang dropping deep, Xavi has the interior midfielders hurtling forward into space, while also utilising passing triangles in wider areas to suck in defenders before allowing his talented wide forwards like Ferran and Ousmane Dembélé to run into space. It has proven hard for teams to stop Barça at full tilt in 2022.
Pedri becoming a true star
Pedri González’s amazing first year at FC Barcelona took the football world by surprise, performing well for Koeman after arriving from Las Palmas, with no adaptation period with Barça’s B team necessary.
Spain coach Luis Enrique liked what he saw and made the Canary Islander a key player for his country at the European Championships last summer. Pedri improved under his tutelage too, looking increasingly threatening in attacking areas, but his start to this season was hampered by injury.
However, he is now back and has hit top form, becoming an essential part of the puzzle for Xavi. His return has felt like Barça also signed a new midfield superstar in the winter window.
Pedri has also scored against RCD Espanyol, Athletic Club and Galatasaray, while his vicious strike was deflected in by Aubameyang against Valencia CF, showing he has been working on the one area he struggled with last season.
Key players recovering form
FC Barcelona’s veteran stars Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets have rolled back the years under Xavi, clearly benefiting from his tactical system.
The increased focus on the midfield has helped Busquets particularly, who has to cover less ground than in previous seasons, while Piqué and Eric García have an onus on them to drive forward with the ball and start attacks, something they are both comfortable with.
Eric, who had a tough start to the season with two red cards, is playing his best football since returning from Manchester City. In ElClasico. he managed a 98 percent pass completion rate, better than any other starter on both sides. That security in bringing the ball out helped minimise opportunities for Real Madrid.
Frenkie de Jong is another player steadily improving under Xavi. The Dutchman is a superb professional who is dedicated to learning what the coach wants from him and how to execute it. He produced one of his finest displays of the season against Real Madrid.
Winning mentality and good vibes
Since Joan Laporta won the club’s presidential election last March, he has focused on trying to restore Barça both on the field and off it. Laporta is no stranger to a wild celebration when the club succeeds, and that positive energy is contagious.
One of Xavi’s decisions when he arrived was to help the squad enjoy themselves again, with lots of fun training activities to help balance the increased tactical focus, and the results are evident on the pitch.
Barça are playing with swagger again and don’t look afraid in high-pressure matches. They came from behind to beat Galatasaray in the Europa League earlier in the week in a fiery atmosphere in Istanbul, before they then produced their finest display of the season at the Santiago Bernabéu to show they no longer have any fear on the biggest occasions.