Barcelona got humbled by Girona at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys and dropped to the 4th position in the La Liga table. The Gironistes put four past Barca on Sunday and recorded their first ever win against their Catalan rivals. The Cules xwere far from their best in this humiliating outing.
Xavi got outplayed in every department by Miguel Sánchez and looked clueless against the current league leaders. Girona went 2 points clear of second placed Real Madrid, and it seems like their purple patch is turning in to an actual title charge this season.
Dismal display from Barcelona
A lot of things went wrong for Xavi's side in this match. We will have a look at some major shortcomings of the current Barcelona squad below:
1. Lewandowski and Raphinha's poor run of form
It's hard to believe that Barca broke their own record in 2023 for xG (expected goals) accumulated, shots attempted and shots on target but still just managed to put 2 goals past Paulo Gazzaniga, one of them coming from a set piece. The culprits behind this are none other than Lewandowski and Raphinha.
Scoring 2 goals from an xG of 4.06 is horrendous to say the least, and we can't blame Xavi for that. A coach cannot score for his players as it solely depends on the individual skills of the players taking the shots. There were two instances where Raphinha could have gone in 1v1 situations but his heavy touches prevented him from doing so.
He also didn't contribute much in the defence. A winger has to mark the opposition's full-back. It's no rocket science but Raphinha couldn't perform the basics well which resulted in Girona's second goal that was scored by their left-back, Miguel Gutiérrez. Miguel was given acres of space outside the box thanks to Raphinha's poor tracking back abilities.
Lewandowski, who is considered to be the one of the greatest strikers football has ever seen, failed to convert easy chances on many occasions. He did score a goal but it wasn't enough to make the fans happy as a lot more is expected from him. He could have drew the game for Barça in the stoppage time but he failed to connect with Yamal's cross and put his header wide of the post.
2. Midfield woes continue at Barca
The Blaugrana have one of the most talented and distinguished players on their team sheet when it comes to midfielders. With the likes of Pedri, Gundogan, Gavi and De Jong in their squad, fans expect them to dominate midfield battles in most of the games.
Gavi's injury was a massive blow for Barca as they don't have any other player of his profile in their team. He's the one who disrupts the opponent's play in the midfield and causes headache for them. Some fans question his technical abilities but he offers much more than that as it was evident in the match against Girona.
Xavi opted for the trio of Gündoğan, Pedri and De Jong which looks great on paper but on the field, this trio has some flaws. Pedri was playing as a number 10 and he was asked to create chances by connecting with Lewandowski in the right half of the field while De Jong and Gündoğan were controlling the flow of the game. Their on-ball utilization was sumptuous as all 3 of them are top caliber players.
The real issue was their off the ball structure. In football, your opponent gets to have some of the ball too no matter what team you are playing against. A team needs a solid structure in order to cut the passing lanes and restrict the opposition's movements in the zone 14 and the half-spaces. Barca clearly struggled with it as they don't have a natural defensive mid in their squad who can win the ball, cut the lanes, screen the back four and organize the structure of his team.
Xavi must go for a defensive mid as soon as possible in order to deal with these complications. Fans would love to see Zubimendi, who plays for Real Sociedad, in their squad but considering the current financial state of Barcelona, Xavi might look for other cheaper options in the market.
3. Strategical and Tactical errors from Xavi
It's true that the individual performances in this match from Xavi's men were below par, but we can't overlook his own tactical blunders either. Girona's manager, Miguel, perfectly exploited the weaknesses in Xavi's playing eleven.
We witnessed the worst pressing from this Barca side in a long time. They were disorganized and the pressing triggers just weren't working. They failed to form triangles which resulted in one extra man on Girona's side and they easily switched flanks which resulted in huge spaces between Barca's midfield and defense lines. It was perfectly exploited by their opponents.
"I want the ball for 90 minutes. When I don't have the ball, I go high pressing because I want the ball."- Pep GuardiolaI
It's not possible to keep the ball for 90 minutes but the ideology of Barca's former coach, and arguably the man with the greatest footballing head, Pep Guardiola, is that he wants his team to see most of the ball to maximize their productivity and dominate their opponents. This is what Barca fans expect from Xavi, to play beautiful, silky smooth football and crush their opponents with ease.
Benching Yamal was probably Xavi's biggest mistake in this match. The 16 year old completely changed the dynamics of the game after entering the pitch and almost got himself an assist as well. The question arises that why did Xavi wait for so long and bring Yamal when his side were trailing by 3 goals to one?
It must be said that Xavi has to turn the tides around quickly or he might lose the support of the fans. The things he has done with a limited budget at the club are commendable but a lot more is expected from him in the near future as a trophy-less season might put an end to his tenure as the Barcelona manager.