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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Barcelona must be careful not to undo progress seen under Xavi

Xavi Barcelona transfer strategy
Xavi’s Barcelona side improved dramatically in the last half of the 2021-22 campaign. Alejandro Garcia/Sipa USA

The La Liga points Barcelona collected in 2022 suggests they will challenge for the Spanish title next season. Xavi Hernandez’s team took 45 points from 20 matches after the turn of the year, more than any other La Liga team including eventual champions Real Madrid. It was only due to their dreadful start to the campaign that Barca were never really in the title race.

A large part of the turnaround in Barcelona’s fortunes was the business they conducted in the January transfer window. Indeed, the addition of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave the Catalans a proven goalscorer to lead the line with Ferran Torres also finding his feet quickly as a Barca player. Adama Traore also proved his worth on loan from Wolves.

Xavi also did a lot of good work on the training pitch with the players he inherited. Barcelona are now a more technical-minded team than they ever were under Ronald Koeman. The Catalans were more careful with the ball, but also found a cutting edge in the final third, as demonstrated by their scoring numbers since Xavi took over in November.

Ousmane Dembele embodied this, becoming a key figure for Barcelona. The 25-year-old registered more La Liga assists (13) than any other player last season despite starting just 15 games and gave Barca some much-needed width and direct running to stretch the pitch and ensure Xavi’s team didn’t become predictable. 

It’s understandable that Xavi wants to keep building. Barcelona don’t just want to compete for domestic honours, they want to be a continental force again. This has led to a lot of speculation around the players the Camp Nou club might target in the transfer market this summer. Several names have been linked.

Robert Lewandowski is believed to be high on Barca’s shopping list with the Polish striker keen to leave Bayern Munich. “Yes, Lewandowski is an option,” Xavi recently admitted. “He has already said he wants to leave, there are negotiations, but he still has a contract at his club. It won’t be easy being Bayern, but it’s an option.”

However, it’s not clear where Lewandowski would fit into a team that already has Aubameyang as a proven goalscorer in the centre forward position. What’s more, Lewandowski is now 33 and Bayern Munich want at least €50m for him – would that really represent good business for a club that is placing a greater emphasis on youth?

Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen have also been strongly linked with Barcelona, but both players will be free agents after leaving Chelsea at the end of June and so they could be justified given the low financial outlay. Azpilicueta in particular would add some experience, and tactical flexibility, to the defensive unit.

Franck Kessie is another soon-to-be free agent on Barcelona’s radar, but Xavi also wants money to be spent on other targets. Bernardo Silva, for one, is a player Xavi admirers, but Manchester City are reluctant to sell the midfielder who was instrumental in last season’s Premier League title success.

Raphinha would be another expensive addition with the Leeds United winger also a target for Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur this summer. Recent reports claim the Elland Road club want at least €60m for their prize asset. If Barca were to pay this, along with a reported €60m for Bernardo and €50m for Lewandowski, that would put their total outlay for the summer window at €170m. 

The sale of Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United would raise funds, but Barcelona must be careful that they don’t repeat past mistakes. After all, this is a club that still has financial troubles and only recently agreed a €900m loan with Goldman Sachs to ease their issues. They must spend prudently.

On top of this, Xavi mustn’t disrupt the balance of the team he has built since his appointment. Barcelona have a clearer sense of their own identity again after a number of seasons of drifting. A large part of this comes from the re-establishment of the link with the club’s famous La Masia youth academy.

Xavi would be foolish to pack his squad with veterans, blocking the route to the first team for Barcelona’s best youngsters. That pathway isn’t just crucial for the team, it’s central to their character as a club. Xavi, and Barca as a whole, must be careful not to undo the good work they have done so far in 2022.

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