Xavi Hernandez was finally named the coach of Barcelona after weeks of negotiations, and was tasked with reviving the fortunes of a team who are in one of the most horrible phases in their recent history. The club has not only been affected by on-field issues but is also in a dire state financially.
This weak economic situation was the reason, they lost their talismanic striker Lionel Messi in the summer.
It is no secret that Xavi has enormous pressure, and expectations from him are high and the last time a former Barcelona player took charge at the Camp Nou, Barcelona created a record by winning six trophies in a single year, a record which still stands today.
And Xavi has started his La Liga campaign with a 1-0 win over Espanyol, and in his first Champions League match came off with a point against Dynamo Kyiv in a match that the Spanish giants should have won.
Following this in his fist away match, the former player oversaw a brilliant performance as they thrashed Villareal 3-1 to record their first away win under the manager.
There are some changes that are clearly evident after Xavi’s appointment.
Foottheball takes a deep dive into the numbers behind the first three games under Xavi.
Villarreal 1-3 Barcelona: This Xavi bloke seems to have started off pretty well…
(RMA/Sevilla already on our timeline) https://t.co/MfRcoBqzpQ pic.twitter.com/5RAtTRKAXP
— The Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) November 29, 2021
Barcelona vs Espanyol
Despite the 1-0 scoreline, Barcelona dominated the game and should have won by more.
Espanyol did come close in the latter stages but Barcelona held off for a welcome three points.
So what changed with Xavi’s appointment?
A clear indication was the increase in both the quantity and quality of passing.
In the entire match, Barcelona made 663 passes with an 89 per cent accuracy the most in the last six matches except for the game against Alaves. In fact, Barcelona managed an average of 580.6 passes in the previous five La Liga games which is significantly lower than what they managed under Xavi.
And they played almost a similar number of passes (644) against Benfica in the Champions League.
So its is clear that Xavi wants them to revert back to a system that still has the ethos of the famed tiki-taka.
However, passing alone doesn’t win you matches if it is sideways or backwards and not attacking and Barcelona excelled here.
According to data from Understat, the Catalans completed a total of 17 passes within the 20 yards of the goal line, the most by the team this season.
So in a nutshell, the players were not only passing the ball more they were passing the ball more into the forward direction and were passing the ball near the opposition’s half.
Another direction where it seems Barcelona showed a drastic improvement was the accuracy in shooting.
Against Espanyol Barcelona had 11 shots inside the box out of which only two were missed while the rest were either saved or blocked.
However, this hasn’t been the case in the last five games.
|Opposition||Shots inside the box||Missed shots|
|Vs Real Madrid||9||5|
|Vs Rayo Vallecano||9||8|
Their game against Rayo Vallecano can be a pretty interesting study in their abysmal attacking play this season.
In the match, Barcelona failed to score despite having an xG rating of 2.86 as opposed to the 0.60 rating of Alaves.
During the match, Barcelona missed a total of eight shots inside the box out of which four were high scoring opportunities.
Sergino Dest blazed the ball high from inside the six-yard box which was rated as 0.74 xG by Understat. Similarly, Aguero and Gavi’s late miss were both rated at 0.33 which shows that Barcelona were unable to put even the easy chances into the back of the net.
And this has been the case in Barcelona for a long time.
Even against Espanyol, Barcelona could have ended with one point or with none at all as the opposition hit the post twice.
However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as Barcelona were defensively sound for most of the match.
2 – Xavi Hernández 🇪🇸 is the 12th @FCBarcelona manager to keep a clean sheet in each of his first two games in all competitions and could become the third to do so in his first three, after Johan Cruyff 🇳🇱 in 1988 (3) and Luis Enrique Martínez 🇪🇸 in 2014 (7). Hope. pic.twitter.com/MWFii6kXLk
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 24, 2021
According to Understat statistics, the xG rating for Espanyol took off in the 80th minute which was less to the with the quality of play and more to do with the fact that Barcelona had failed to convert their opportunities which kept the opposition hopes of a point or even three alive.
However, the signs are good for Xavi and if Barcelona attackers can find their missing boots, then the team can bounce back.
Xavi has also brought a mentality of going of being aggressive from the start of the match, one of the key weaknesses of not only Ronald Koeman but also of Ernesto Valverde that was responsible for massive heartbreaks on the European stage.
According to Opta, Barcelona attempted 11 shots in the first half alone, the highest for the team this season in any competition.
We have to also take into account that Xavi was in his first match was coming up against a team that was in a good defensive form.
Stats chrome Understat shows that the team were expected to concede by 18.47 expected goals but have only conceded 13 goals which make them the best side with the highest differential between the goals expected and goal conceded in the league.
1 – Espanyol's Diego López 🇪🇸 has made more saves (59) and has a better save percentage (80% – minimum three appearances) than any other goalkeeper in @LaLigaEN this season. Guardian. pic.twitter.com/dkqiPgUgnS
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 28, 2021
Their goalkeeper Diego Lopez is also in fine form with 59 saves to his name this season, the highest in the league and a 80 per cent save rate, again the highest in the league.
So considering the opposition and the current state of Barcelona, Xavi can be more than happy with both the performance during the match and the final result.
And they went even better in their next match against Villareal; where they battered the home side 3-1
Barcelona vs Villareal
This win was more than a win for Barcelona as it was the first time that the team had won an away match this season and was also the first time that they had son back-to-back matches in the 2021-22 season.
1 – @FCBarcelona have won a @LaLigaEN away game for the first time this season (G6 W1 D3 L2) and also it’s the first time they’ve won back-to-back games in the competitions in 2021/22. Effect. pic.twitter.com/39DbYhwGNt
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 27, 2021
Barcelona were also efficient when it came to shooting, a major weakness of theirs.
Out of the 12 shots that they had six were on target. However, they still have a lot of work to do as despite scoring three goals they were still behind their xG score of 3.37 and they must improve
In fact, Barcelona have a negative xG difference of 3.21 between expected goals and actual goals scored which is the fifth worse in the league.
The story is almost the same when it comes to assists where they have a negative difference of 1.23, the sixth worse in the league.
This is the reason that they are 3.16 points worse than their expected points tally, the fourth worse in the league.
So despite all the improvements made in the three games under Xavi, the road is long ahead of Barcelona before they can start competing for domestic and continental honours.
1 – Barcelona have scored with just one of their 34 shots in their three games under Xavi Hernández 🇪🇸 in all comps, coming that goal from the penalty spot: Memphis Depay 🇳🇱 against Espanyol. Difficulties. pic.twitter.com/gSMH8Magjp
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 27, 2021
However, the changes that Xavi has managed to bring under such a short amount of time bodes well for the club’s future
And the players have also shown with their performances that the talent is there, and what is lacking is the proper application of coaching methods and tactics.
In Xavi’s second match against Benfica, both Sergio Busquets and Gavi were in sublime form with the former recovering the ball 14 times, equalling his best-ever tally in the Champions League while the latter was involved in four shots, (an attempted ghost and two key passes) equalling his best tally ever.
It is too early to exactly gauge the impact, that Xavi will have on the playing style of Barcelona as they have not played a top team under his tenure. Maybe the final group game in the Champions League against Bayern Munich is a good indicator for that.
Xavi has a lot on his plate and will need to call upon all his experience a coach and player to turn things around at Barcelona but the early sign looks promising.
When Guardiola took charge of Barcelona 13 years back, the first goal Barcelona score was through a Lionel Messi penalty, Xavi hs started his era with a Memphis Depay one. Will the similarity between the two remain the same, only time will tell.