La Liga: No quick fix for Xavi's Barcelona

06 December 2022 18:29:36 CET
Xavi is getting to grips with the job at Barca

Xavi Hernandez celebrated his first month as Barcelona's head coach on Monday and if he was not already aware of the size of the project awaiting him at the Camp Nou, then he certainly won't be under any illusions now.

Barcelona will not look back at 2021 fondly, with the club's ongoing financial struggles contributing to the departure of talisman Lionel Messi over the summer - with the Argentine ending his 21-year association with the Catalan giants by joining Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

With a Messi-shaped hole within his squad, former head coach Ronald Koeman struggled during the opening months of the season, with the Dutchman seemingly being put out of his misery when he was sacked at the end of October.

Club legend Xavi, who is second only to Messi as Barca's all-time appearance maker, was the man chosen to succeed Koeman in the dugout, and we have assessed his first month in the role, with the club currently sitting seventh in La Liga, 16 points behind leaders Real Madrid and priced at 1/1000 to even just finish in the top four.

Solid if unspectacular start for returning legend

Barca had won just once in five matches under Koeman and interim boss Sergi Barjuan prior to Xavi's return to the club, but it was no surprise that they received an immediate lift in the 41-year-old's first match in charge, claiming a 1-0 victory over local rivals Espanyol in La Liga.

The narrow nature of that victory would have created more questions than answers for Xavi, as would the subsequent goalless home draw with Benfica in the Champions League, which leaves their qualification hopes in that competition hanging in the balance (more on that later).

An unconvincing 3-1 win at Villarreal then followed - two late goals were needed to seal that success - before Xavi suffered his first defeat as Barca boss at the weekend, with his side going down 1-0 to Real Betis at the Camp Nou.

Goals an issue for Barca

It is no surprise that Barca are struggling for goals this season given that, in Messi, they lost the club's all-time leading scorer during the summer, while Antoine Griezmann was also allowed to depart.

In place of that duo, Barca brought in forwards Memphis Depay, Sergio Aguero and Luuk de Jong.

Depay has caught the eye on occasion, netting a respectable if not spectacular eight goals in 20 appearances across all competitions - the problem is he is the only Barca player to have netted more than four times.

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There are extenuating circumstances for that lack of goals, with Aguero currently sidelined after suffering a heart scare in October, while Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembele and Martin Braithwaite have all been struggling with fitness issues of late.

However, the numbers do not lie, Barca are only the seventh highest scorers in La Liga, netting fewer times than Rayo Vallecano, while they have only struck twice in five Champions League games to date.

Addressing that lack of goals must be a priority for Xavi, but with Barca's financial issues still a concern, it is unlikely he will be able to find a quick fix in the transfer market.

Pivotal contest coming up for rookie boss

We may just be a month into Xavi's Barcelona tenure, but the former Spain international is already facing a potentially decisive contest this week, with his side set to visit the Allianz Arena to take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Barca are priced at 6/4 to qualify for the knockout stages, but to do that they must match or better Benfica's result against Dynamo Kyiv.

The omens do not look good for the Blaugrana, as they have lost twice to Bayern over the previous18 months, infamously going down 8-2 to the Bavarians in the quarter-finals of the 2019-20 Champions League before losing 3-0 when the two teams met at the Camp Nou earlier in this year's group stage.

Bayern are already assured of their place in the knockout stages, so Barca may be able to capitalise on Julian Nagelsmann's side taking their eye off the ball, with the away win available at 17/4, but that may just be wishful thinking on the visitors' part.

In truth, Barca are probably going to require a favour from Dynamo to progress, but failure to make it through to the last 16 will not only hang a dark cloud over Xavi's early tenure, but it could also prove financially catastrophic for the club as a whole.

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