A match against Villareal, at home, with a chance to stay in the title race. A dismal defensive performance, and 5 goals conceded. A loss to a team that didn't have a single win in 2024. Rock bottom for FC Barcelona, and a match that broke the camel's back.
After this match, Xavi Hernández, Barça legend and football royalty, took over an hour to address the media. Once he did, he dropped some news: he will be leaving the team at the end of the season, despite still being under contract until 2025. The situation is untenable, he said, and as a culer, he can't allow it to continue. A commendable sentiment, but a sad day overall for Barça, its players, and its fans. Let's take a look at this performance and try to break down a bit of what went wrong.
Iñaki Peña: 5/10 - It's become increasingly clear that Marc-André ter Stegen may be a bigger loss than initially thought. Peña simply hasn't shown the level necessary to be a starting-level keeper. His command of the box is poor, and his shot-stopping is hit or miss. Two of Villareal's goals really should've been saved, especially the fourth. It just doesn't feel secure with him at the back, and even if it also feels that way at times with ter Stegen, at least the German's passing is levels above.
Fort: 7/10 - Xavi subbed him off at halftime for Cancelo, but it was in the search for more offensive prowess. Fort wasn't bad at all, however. He wasn't quite as good as in previous matches, but he was confident in possession and defended well. The 17-year-old has a lot of potential, but in a match like this, where Barça were devoid of creativity, someone like Cancelo could make more of an impact.
Christensen: 6/10 - The first half didn't hold too many chances for Villareal, although they did have 2 or 3. In the end, they would score one near the end of the first to put Barça down 1. On that goal, Christensen afforded Moreno way too much space and time to receive the cross and get the shot off. Even if he was alright throughout the first half, that one mistake resulted in a goal and was a crusher.
Araújo: 6/10 - Although he did sort of cause a goal off a free kick, he wasn't very good today. The typical Araújo positives were there: good in the air, much improved as a passer, and physically very capable. However, he wasn't positionally disciplined, and he can tend to be all over in the place in the exact opposite way as De Jong (we'll get into him later). Overall, afforded way too many spaces and was just disorganized at the back. He also failed to clear the ball late on, which led to a goal for the visitors.
Koundé: 6/10 - Not a very decisive performance from Koundé. The Frenchman was good at the beginning of the match, playing well off Yamal, but it didn't carry over into the second half. He suffers from the same positioning problems that the rest of the defense suffers from, as well as the lack of midfield help that makes every back line look bad. Sørloth seems to be a particularly bad matchup for this backline, as well. He's strong and tall, and Koundé couldn't deal with him.
Cancelo: 6/10 - He came on and immediately provided an offensive boost, but it was his error that led to Villareal's second goal. He failed to control the ball and allowed Ilias right past him. Individual mistakes like these are killers; the game is, after all, a game of moments. I'll cut him just a bit of slack, as he's come back from injury, but it's not good enough for such an experienced player.
Cubarsí: 7/10 - His passing continues to impress. He circulates the ball quickly and decisively. However, the entire defense was in shambles near the end, including Cubarsí. Everyone was all over the place, unable to clear dangerous balls. He tried to defend Villareal's third goal, but he couldn't slide in time.
Frenkie de Jong: 5/10 - Can't figure him out. Just when he appears to be stepping up his defensive intensity, he goes back to ball-watching. In possession, I don't mind him sometimes aimlessly dribbling; he's definitely tremendously talented and must be allowed a bit of free rein. However, it's absolutely unacceptable for someone playing as deep as he is to be lackadaisical defensively. He's all over the place, in the sense that he covers the wrong spaces, and he walks around a lot out of possession. It's not acceptable, because even if you aren't burned on a particular play, you will eventually be. Frenkie was one of the main culprits in a squad that looks like they've given up out of possession.
Romeu: 6/10 - Simply not good enough for Barcelona. He isn't a bad player, and he was decent in that first half, but he's got obvious deficiencies that can't really be covered well by the current squad. He defends well, but not in space, and Villareal exploited that more than once. And if he's not good enough against lower-tier sides in the league, then what was the point of signing him?
Gundogan: 7/10 - Not a bad match from him. He is one of the few players who consistently drops good performances. He scored a goal and should've had an assist to Ferran as well. He's suffering a bit from the clear lack of a plan regarding him and Pedri, which I'll talk about in Pedri's section.
Pedri: 6/10 - As promised, let's unpack Pedri in this one. Last match, Pedri was playing higher up and more offensively. In this one, he was playing deeper as Gundogan played above. This lack of consistency, to me, speaks more about Barça than the other team. It appears that there isn't a clear plan on who should play where, and that lack of continuity makes the team suffer. The midfield construction at present just doesn't make too much sense. There are no clear defined roles that can give the players some expectations of their job.
Félix: 6/10 - Not much to write home about. Actually, quite a similar game to Ferran. Not too involved, and I can't remember a moment where he had a good play. He didn't get much run, but he didn't do much when he was out there.
Lewandowski: 5/10 - I think it's fair to say that Lewandowski is having a terrible season. Just watching him has become difficult. He loses far too many balls, isn't effective in the box, and oftentimes isn't even in the box. Even his assist to Gundogan was an accidental backheel as he failed to control the pass.
Yamal: 8/10 - Yamal was one of the few bright spots in this one. He reminds me of Pedri in the way they glide effortlessly with the ball. He made it to the touchline more than once and peppered in dangerous crosses. He was Barça's only danger at times, always threatening to cut onto that left foot, but not beholden to it. He seems to really be coming into his own recently. They need to be very careful with how they manage him.
Ferran: 6/10 - A no-show from him. He lost a few balls and was generally poor. He did have one shot on target, but it was a simple one to save. He also missed what really should've been a goal in a wide open situation. He just couldn't handle the pass coming his way from Gundogan.
Vitor Roque: 6/10 - He has come into a very difficult situation for sure. A time in which Barça are struggling in every aspect of the game. He shows moments of potential, however. I have no doubt he will be a good player. He made one very nice run in behind, but wasn't quite able to open his goalscoring account. Of course, he has played less than 60 minutes since joining. He will score soon, though.
A crushing blow that effectively ends Barça's title chances - or at least makes it very, very difficult. Xavi's done quite a bit of good for this team, especially when it comes to developing young talent and giving them a chance to shine. Unfortunately, there has been a disconnect all season, one that is as much on the players as on the coach. It's important to not lose sight of Xavi's career and all that he's done for this squad. Taking over in the worst financial situation possible and leading them to multiple titles is no easy task. However, it hasn't worked out. While rumors will swirl regarding who Barça's next coach will be, let's take at least a few moments to reflect and thank Xavi for all that he's done.