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Talking Tactics: Xavi and Barca have Real problems ahead of El Clasico
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Dan Fitch
Xavi needs to get Barcelona back to winning ways
Xavi needs to get Barcelona back to winning ways

Barcelona’s season took a sudden turn for the worse last week — adding pressure on them ahead of the latest instalment of El Clasico. 

Xavi’s side faced Manchester United in the Europa League on Thursday and took the lead at Old Trafford only to be eventually beaten 2-1 and exit the competition. 

Worse was to come over the weekend when LaLiga's leaders surprisingly lost 1-0 to promoted Almeria. 

Ahead of Barca’s trip to bitter rivals Real Madrid for the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final, we look at the tactical issues that Xavi has been dealing with.

Almeria worry

Though Barcelona will have naturally been disappointed to be knocked out of Europe, there was no real disgrace in losing to an in-form United side away from home. 

It was a tough draw for the Catalan giants, which followed an equally tricky Champions League group where they could only finish third. 

Prior to last week, Barca’s only defeats this season had come against Bayern Munich (twice), Inter Milan and at old foes Real in LaLiga.

None of these losses were too concerning considering that they came against top teams but the defeat against Almeria presents far more of a worry.

Presented with a chance to extend their lead at the top of LaLiga, they could only muster one shot on target from 72% of the possession.

Lewandowski slump

The goals have dried up for Robert Lewandowski in recent weeks
The goals have dried up for Robert Lewandowski in recent weeks

Barcelona’s blank against Almeria was their first in the league since drawing 0-0 with Rayo Vallecano on the opening day of the season, yet it was an accident waiting to happen. 

Barca scored 28 goals in their first 11 LaLiga clashes. In the last 12, they have only found the net 17 times. 

That can partially be explained by the form of Robert Lewandowski, who picked up 13 of his 15 league strikes in the first 12 games of the season. 

He has only scored two times in his next eight. The 34-year-old had a frustrating World Cup and will miss tonight's clash through injury.

Yet a striker who has scored 25 goals in 31 games across all competitions is the least of Xavi’s problems in a team that still contains plenty of compromises. 

Lopsided formation

Barcelona have been solid at the back this season
Barcelona have been solid at the back this season

Since Xavi was appointed in November 2021, Barca have gone on a massive spending spree but there remain gaping holes. 

They lack a specialist right-back with midfielder Sergi Roberto and centre-back Jules Kounde often deployed there. 

This results in a lopsided formation where the right-back sits deep and the left-back has license to attack down the flank. It is also a solution to another problem, which is that Xavi lacks a left-winger. 

Ferran Torres has disappointed since his move from Manchester City, while Ansu Fati should be the solution but his teenage promise has been wrecked by injuries and he is mainly used as an impact substitute. 

To account for this issue, Xavi has taken to starting with Gavi on the left. The 18-year-old drifts inside to form two playmakers alongside Pedri, with two more defensively-minded midfielders sitting behind them. 

Defensive consistency

Marc-Andre ter Stegen has kept plenty of clean sheets this season
Marc-Andre ter Stegen has kept plenty of clean sheets this season

Lacking the personnel to properly play with the 4-3-3 formation that Barcelona are famous for, Xavi has been forced to field asymmetrical line-ups that can be predictable to defend against. 

Adding to his woes is the fact that Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele and Pedri are all injured. 

With Real at home and having found some form in recent weeks, Barcelona go into this match as underdogs despite winning the last El Clasico when they lifted the Spanish Super Cup.

Their problems in attack have been masked until late by the reliability of their defence. Xavi's side have conceded a mere eight goals in the league this season, keeping clean sheets in 17 of their 23 games. 

That defensive record has allowed them to be remarkably consistent when it comes to beating the teams that they are expected to.

More cup success could prove difficult as a result but with a seven-point lead, there is every reason to believe that Barca can get back on track and win their first league title since 2018-19.


BarcelonaReal MadridLaLigaCopa del Rey
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