Photo credit: Getty images
By Chima Azu
The game against Benfica might not have gone the way they wanted it to go, but after two games the positive impact of the new head coach is glaring for all to see. There is all to play for away in the last group stage game away to Bayern Munich and it is looking like an uphill task but looking at the first two performances Barca fans can be optimistic that they can win that game. Also, for the fact that Bayern have already topped the group they might want to rest some of their usual starters in a game which is already a dead rubber for the Germans and that might play into the hands of Barca. If it were to be Xavi’s predecessor all hope would have been lost against Bayern. There are already a lot of positives from the two games that Xavi has been in charge and some of them are:
CHANGE IN ATTITUDE:
In both games played so far the attitude of the players has obviously changed and now you can see them fighting for every ball. The team can now compete regardless of the opposition they come against. Unlike Koeman’s tenure, the team always struggle to control games, keep possesion and always struggled to create chances. Regardless of the fact that the team cannot boast of the kind of quality players they once possessed, these current crop of players are standing to be counted all thanks to Xavi. With Koeman in charge back then the team on most occasions would have lost the game mentally even before the kickoff.
Watching how quickly the ball moves from defense to attack is a far cry to what we watched when Koeman was in charge. The team now plays with more urgency and quick plays. One can see how fluid the ball moves and the players playing not more than two to three touches. It’s unfortunate to say that few games ago they were just too slow and predictable.
KEEPING POSSESSION AND CREATING CHANCES:
Barca has always been known for keeping possession but under the Dutchman it seemed like they had lost their identity, however that is gradually changing. Against Espanyol and Benfica, the Catalans had 65% and 60% possession respectively. They have had a total of 26 shots with 9 on target. More bodies now arrive into the opposition’s 18 yard box which creates more goal scoring opportunities. Though the goals are not raining yet (just one a penalty) it is worthy of note that they are yet to concede so far.
MIXING IT ALL UP:
Now it is not just all about the tiki-taka, the team now plays more direct football and not just passing from side-to-side aimlessly. Full backs and wingers are also crossing the ball into the box with teasing crosses begging for headers. In addition, they now also play counter attack when the need arises and with Dembele back he will add more impetus to that aspect of their game.
However, if peradventure the Catalans end up not qualifying for the knockout phase of the Champions League they still have the Europa League to play for. It’s not all doom and gloom, Barca fans can be optimistic with the recent performances and believe that the turnaround they desired would eventually come. With their former legend now in charges he will need time to change the fortunes of the club back to what it used to be.