For all the talk of Xavi being the man to come in and teach Barcelona how to play football again, he did the exact opposite on Saturday against Villarreal.
The tiki-taka icon was supposed to usher in a new era of short, silky passing and possession dominance. We saw that for 15 minutes on Saturday, after which Xavi seemingly decided he was bored of it.
Having watched Ez Abde, Memphis Depay and Gavi all nearly score within the first seven or eight minutes, Xavi decided to give up trying to score and focused solely on defending.
He clipped Abde’s wings, asking the teenager – who was Barcelona’s brightest forward at the time – to man-mark Villarreal left-back Alfonso Pedraza, as well as tasking makeshift right-back Eric Garcia with doing the same to winger Moi Gomez.
Not only did it not work, but it absolutely killed any momentum Barcelona had. They had been dominant for the first 15 minutes, and the second Xavi made this change, it all disappeared and Villarreal could have easily had three or four goals in the first half.
Garcia was asked to follow Gomez literally everywhere. Already out of position on the right, the Spaniard ended up in the heart of midfield because of this assignment, leaving Pedraza with an ocean of space ahead of him and only young Abde to try and stop him.
Unsurprisingly, Abde struggled with that task. He’s not a defender and has barely played any senior football. Why Xavi thought that would be a good idea is anyone’s guess.
The tactic wasn’t as obvious in the second half, but the damage was done at that point. Villarreal had the wind in their sails and Barcelona looked incredibly nervous and unsure of themselves.
That uncertainty was punished by Samu Chukwueze, and it looked as though Villarreal were going to go on and win the game before a simple long ball from Marc-Andre ter Stegen allowed Memphis to save the day.
The relief on Xavi’s face was obvious, and Philippe Coutinho’s late penalty only amplified that. The boss knew his side had snatched a win that, because of him, they probably didn’t deserve.
Hope is still high for Xavi, but he’s going to have to learn incredibly quickly that changes like this cannot fly at Barcelona, or in the professional game at all. He watched his team dominating the game and chose to disrupt that for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
Barcelona should have lost this one. They were just fortunate to come up against a Villarreal side who were just as shaky at the back.
There is still a whole lot of work for Xavi to do.