Barcelona’s dreadful defence undermining Xavi Hernandez’s rebuild
Only a handful of clubs spent more in the summer transfer window than Barcelona. The Catalans did this despite the precarious financial position of the club, but there was widespread belief that the spending spree would help Xavi Hernandez build a team capable of winning the biggest honours.
However, fractures are already starting to appear in Barca’s new-look side, as demonstrated by the Clasico defeat to Real Madrid. Xavi boasts one of the most formidable attacks in the Spanish and European game, but his team is being undermined by the weakness of his defence. Without a sound foundation, Barcelona will struggle to compete at the top. Gerard Pique’s recent performances have painted the picture of a player no longer sharp enough to play at the elite level with Eric Garcia still to prove he is good enough for Barcelona. Jules Kounde was Barca’s big-money defensive addition in the summer window, but the Frenchman has yet to settle in his new surroundings.
Barcelona’s defensive weakness is clearest in the full back positions. At left back, Alex Balde has been favoured by Xavi despite the youngster’s flaws. Marcos Alonso has also featured, but lacks the mobility and defensive nous to play on the left side of a back four. Meanwhile, Jordi Alba has been pushed down the pecking order. The situation isn’t much better on the right side where Kounde, Balde, Hector Bellerin, Sergi Roberto and Ronald Araujo have all been used. Xavi allowed Sergino Dest to leave Barcelona for AC Milan on loan, but failed to sign a long-term replacement. Barca’s summer transfer activity left Xavi curiously light on options on the left and right of his defence.
“We have to be self-critical. We’re not doing well at all,” Xavi admitted after the defeat to Real Madrid which came soon after a damaging draw at home to Inter in the Champions League. “We’re in a very bad dynamic and we have to change it immediately. I feel bad and frustrated. We weren’t as aggressive as we should have been. “I don’t think Real Madrid have beaten us in intensity but they have in maturity, they have known how to compete better, they are a more accomplished and mature team than us at the moment. I won’t ever blame the players. It won’t happen. I am the captain of this ship and I take responsibility.”
Opponents have realised just how vulnerable Barcelona are in moments of quick transition. Xavi’s defenders lack in-game intelligence. Even when they get back in numbers, they frequently fail to spot the movement of opposition attackers – see how Karim Benzema and Fede Valverde dropped off to find space for Real Madrid’s first two goals in El Clasico. Barca haven’t been helped by the recent form of Sergio Busquets. In the past, he would have stopped opposition attacks before they could even reach the final third, but the 34-year-old is fading as a physical force in the centre of the pitch. The knock-on effect of this is that Barcelona are a more open team.
For all the money Barca have spent in the transfer market recently, they might have to wait until the window opens again to address some of the deficiencies within their squad. A new left back is surely on Xavi’s shopping list while another right back would also be helpful. Araujo’s return from injury would give Barcelona the sort of physicality they have lacked of late. It was always likely that Xavi’s Barcelona rebuild would be a long process, but his own club has put pressure on him to deliver immediately. Joan Laporta expected his club to challenge for the La Liga and Champions League titles this season. Barca, however, don’t have the defence to do this.