From dreamland to a horror trilogy: Xavi's Barcelona honeymoon is well and truly over

Xavi Barcelona 2021-22Getty Images

Routing Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Napoli, and others - Xavi Hernandez’s arrival catapulted Barcelona into dreamland.

But over the course of April, they have lurched into a much darker place.

They awoke screaming, after losing three games in a row at Camp Nou for the first time in the club’s history, with Xavi’s honeymoon well and truly period over.

For better or worse, it has been a whirlwind start in the dugout for the former Barca midfielder, who compared the 4-0 hammering of Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu to a sci-fi flick, but also admitted there have been “moments of horror”.

There were further cuts from the latter genre screened at Camp Nou last week, as Barca fell 1-0 to relegation-battling minnows Cadiz on Monday, and then lost by the same score against Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

More instalments lie ahead, with Mallorca, another side fighting for their lives, visiting Camp Nou this coming Sunday.

The script they need to follow to beat Barcelona was written by both Cadiz and Rayo. A low block, organised time-wasting, rotating through different players going down injured or with cramp and stopping the game with repeated small fouls.

The Blaugrana's downturn in form has put their hopes of a second-place finish, and even Champions League qualification, at risk. The performances against Cadiz, in particular, was as disappointing and stolid as the end of the Ronald Koeman era.

The sheen of Barcelona’s form at the start of the year, going 15 games unbeaten, has vanished.

“I understand it’s not as motivating for the fans and players to fight for second place,” said Xavi, "but we have to be in the Champions League, we want to hear the Champions League music next season.

"We have to go into the games better. In the first half, we were not good. In the second better. We tried everything but the situation is difficult. I recognise as a coach that I made a mistake in not motivating them."

Gavi Barcelona quote GFX

Losing at home against Eintracht Frankfurt was also a brutal blow, not just for their hopes of winning the Europa League, but also for the team’s morale, in a stadium filled with jubilant away fans who revelled in seeing their team go 3-0 up.

Eintracht supporters snapped up tickets for the game at Camp Nou, with a reported 30,000 in attendance, filling the iconic Plaza Catalunya and singing their way to Les Corts.

The club’s ‘grada d’animació’ (singing stand) protested the club allowing so many visiting fans in by boycotting the clash with Cadiz, leaving a strange, hollow atmosphere inside the cavernous arena. 

Although they returned against Rayo, the attendances for both games were in the mid 50,000s, figures put to shame by Barca Femeni, the club's women’s team.

They have played twice at Camp Nou in the last few weeks, in the Women’s Champions League, with world-record attendances of over 90,000 there to see triumphant thrashings of Real Madrid and Wolfsburg, respectively.

Barcelona Femeni GFX

The Eintracht controversy also led to a club inquisition, where president Joan Laporta sought to blame some season-ticket holders who sold their passes and an archaic bookings system which got overloaded, without accepting much responsibility.

On the pitch, Barca peaked at the Bernabeu before the international break and have suddenly run out of steam, similar to last season when they thrashed Real Sociedad at the same juncture and then threw away the title.

Xavi has acknowledged that playing a high pressing game, something the club have not practised in recent years, has taken a toll on his players.

Pedri’s injury has been a big problem, too.

Xavi’s Barcelona hit full strength when the Canary Islander was at his effervescent best, running the show and feeding the forwards ahead of him, but he is now out for the rest of the campaign with a torn hamstring.

From the moment he disappeared, the team deflated.

Pedri Barcelona GFX

Ansu Fati has also been missing, and his potential return as a substitute against Mallorca offers one glimmer of hope for the last five games of the season.

The teenager raised morale at the club when he came back from injury against Levante in September, and the hope is he can do the same again.

Xavi remarked with surprise upon his arrival that a lot of the players were not trained in Barcelona’s positional play, and that is still proving a challenge.

Sergino Dest - another who is now out for the rest of the season due to injury - did not track Alvaro Garcia’s run well enough for Rayo’s goal, while Frenkie de Jong was substituted early after another poor performance.

Article continues below

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, meanwhile, has been in resplendent goalscoring form but is struggling with hold-up play and control, which is a problem in a team that wants to keep the ball at all times.

Against Real Sociedad on Thursday, Barca had less possession than their opponents, just scraping a 1-0 win thanks to profligate finishing from the Basques.

There is a lot for Xavi to work on, both tactically and mentally, in what will be a long week in Catalunya before Mallorca arrive on Sunday, hoping to add a fourth horror film to Barca’s collection.