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Barca Blaugranes: Barcelona Blog Q & A

Want to know the in-depth details about the Catalan club? We interview Gill Clark to share her fascinating thoughts about Barca!

Coach Xavi with Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Andreas Christensen & Eric Garcia - FC Barcelona - Champions League
Do you think ‘Xavi Ball’ will be a success?
Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

To continue our series of sister-blog interviews, NMA speaks to another fascinating SB Nation blog, Barca Blaugranes, which covers pretty much all you need to know about that beautiful Catalan club.

Just twelve months ago, the Barca club was in a state of turmoil with Leo Messi leaving to France’s Paris Saint Germain, the disastrous Ronald Koeman tenure, backlash the previous leadership received, and the post-Covid financial chaos the club was going through.

Fast forward: The club legend Xavi is appointed, and here comes the ‘trust the process’ journey by signing top-quality players over the summer window. Who better to share insight, analysis and passion than Barca Blaugranes’ very own Gill Clark, whom we thank for sharing her perspective on the following questions.

Ali: As many call the “Xavi ball” – “Trust the process” seems to be working and doing wonders for Barcelona in Spain’s La Liga. So far, the Catalan team has won five and drawn one out of the six games played, and sit 2nd in the table. Meanwhile, they scored a whopping five for the win against FC Viktoria Plzen, but lost 2-0 to Bayern despite showing some great display of football in the first half of the Champions League group stages. How well do you think has been the start of Barca in both the campaigns?

Gill: Apart from the Rayo and Bayern games, they have done very well. I think it’s becoming clear what Xavi’s Gala XI is going to be for the season and exactly how he wants his team to play. The new signings look great; there’s intense competition for places, and the fans are excited again. That said, there is still room for improvement. Barca will feel they should have beaten Bayern so to end up going down 2-0 was a real disappointment.


Ali: This season is going to be a strange one due to the World Cup coming in between that creates certain questions about player fitness, fatigues or even form. We will divide and get into the minute details of your opinion on certain topics surrounding the club, but with what you have seen, in terms of performances, what do you think Barcelona will/or should achieve by the end of the campaign?

Gill: I think they have to win something this season, particularly after spending so much in the summer, but it won’t be easy. Real Madrid haven’t dropped a point yet, and as I’ve said, the Bayern game showed Barca still have things to learn in the Champions League. Barca have given Xavi pretty much everything he asked for (apart from Bernardo Silva) so if he were to end the season empty-handed it would be a big blow.


Tactician and Tactics

Ali: As a Barca fan, it’s always beautiful to watch them play. The DNA of this club is playing possession style football, dominating the 90 minutes and finding gaps to go for the win. From the tiki-taka to aggressive attacking approach is the forte that has done wonders for the club, but the latest downfall of the Koeman era may have brought bad memories, especially given the leadership approach at the top during those days. However, the mood has taken a whopping 180 degree turn from where it was 12 months ago, with Leo Messi leaving and the disaster the previous board left. And, then comes another legendary player after Koeman back to the club – Xavi. As a player, the Spaniard has won every single trophy out there at club and country level, has seen the very top of the game, played with potentially the best player ever in the history of football.

Many widely considered him as one of the greatest midfielders of all time, who was known for his passing, vision, ball retention, and positioning. But nothing was a guarantee when he returned as a manager, especially coming from managing Al Sadd, where he did well by winning seven trophies as a manager, but nothing compares to what it’s like managing Barcelona.

Fast forward of his tenure so far, since November 6 [2021] when he was announced as the manger, how well do you think Xavi has managed to sustain and improve the culture surrounding the club? And, what do you think of the ‘Xavi ball’ that is coming into effect in the way Barcelona plays?

Gill: I think it’s obvious Xavi has improved things a lot already. He took the team from 9th to 2nd last season. He has installed rules, made tough decisions, backed his players. I think if you look at someone like Dembele who looked set to leave on a free but has stayed and is now flourishing and has made it clear how important Xavi’s faith in him has been.

Xavi’s also shown he’s willing to bench Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique. He’s giving 18-year-old Balde a chance at left-back despite having Alba and Marcos Alonso around. Eric Garcia is another player who has had a bit of a tough time, but he’s been backed by Xavi and is looking much better this season. The style of play is no surprise — Xavi wants Barca to play how Barca play: to have the ball, press high, have pace and skill out wide, and play attacking, exciting football.


Ali: 4-3-3 is really the approach on paper, that extends further to potential 5-3-2, with both fullbacks moving further to give the wingers of either Dembele/Fati/Raphinha/Torres/Depay enough gap to make their inverted runs, and the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Pedri/Gavi/De Jong/Kessie are given enough room to dive into the box, while Sergio Busquets and the two center-backs take hold defensively. Except for the lethal Polish striker, every position has incredible depth of talent, which gives Xavi a great headache to deal with.

The question is: How can Xavi deal with such massive egos? (keeping everybody happy with minutes and pure friendly competition, and if Xavi has enough room to adapt to different formation and style of play when they face the big boys in the UCL competition such as Man City). The Bayern Munich game showed glimpses of their potentially the first toughest fixture of the season. What are your thoughts on this?

Gill: Well, this is what Xavi wanted. He said he wanted two players for every position, and he pretty much has that now. And now you look at the international break, and you see Kounde, Memphis, De Jong, and Araujo all coming back with injuries, and you see one reason why he wanted such strength in depth. And don’t forget Barca will have a lot of players at the World Cup, which is another reason.

The second half of the season will be very challenging. Managing egos isn’t easy, but as I have said before, he’s already dropped Pique and Alba. Frenkie de Jong is also not guaranteed a start. So far it’s working. The competition for places seems to be bringing out the best in players as they try to stake a claim for a regular spot. I think Barca are about to play a game every three days before the World Cup, so he’ll need his squad, and there should be enough minutes for everyone. Of course it might not suit all his players, but that will be another test of Xavi’s capabilities.


Summer Transfers

Ali: Barcelona fans really had a window to remember during the summer period. Despite the financial woes, the Catalan club made tons of big, quality moves to transform the club from where it was 12 months ago, with 17 outing players, and bringing over eight quality players. They bought the following players:

· Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich (€45 million + €5 million add-ons)

· Raphinha, Leeds United (€58 million + €10 million add-ons)

· Jules Kounde, Sevilla (€50 million + €10 million add-ons)

· Pablo Torre, Racing Santander (€5 million + €20 million add-ons)

· Franck Kessie, AC Milan (free)

· Andreas Christensen, Chelsea (free)

· Héctor Bellerín, Arsenal (free)

· Marcos Alonso, Chelsea (free)

Firstly, what is your take on the business completed? Whom do you think is going to exceed expectation and play an integral part this season?

Gill: To be honest, I was surprised they managed to pull all the signings off given their financial issues, but then again, being a Barcelona fan, you tend to expect the unexpected these days. I think it’s obvious Lewandowski is going to have a huge impact and will score a lot. He’s already scored 11 goals, and it’s only September. I think Kounde is also going to play a key role this season at Barca — He’s already looked great in the early weeks; let’s hope he’s back from injury soon.

Ali: Second, what is your take on such a massive transfer business? Do you care about the short-term success or perhaps, the long-term damage this can cause with the the sale of 10% of the club’s domestic television rights to global investment firm Sixth Street at the end of June? This turned out to be a deal worth over €200m and was completed just before June 30, which is the deadline for the financial year.

Then, the Catalan club sold another 15% of their La Liga TV rights to Sixth Street in July for over €300m and then two 24.5% stakes in Barca Studios for around €200m in operations, which are factored into revenue for the 2022-23 season. Due to their mis-management of handling the wage bill, they were challenged to register newly signed players. Recently, the club announced profits of €98 million for the 2021-22 campaign and predict they will make another €271m in the current season.

Gill: Of course we care. There’s plenty of excitement at the club after a summer of exciting transfers but also a lot of wondering whether all this mortgaging the future by activating all the levers is going to pay off and what it means for the club if it doesn’t. The truth is nobody knows right now how it’s going to pan out, and much may depend on how successful the team is this season. There’s probably a lot of fingers being crossed in Barcelona for this season.


Robert Lewandowski Impact

Ali: Such a mega-star of a footballer, who is known as a legend at Bayern Munich was ready to fight the battle for multiple reasons to join the Catalan side, and boy, it looks like he just fits so well in the Blue and Red strips shirt at the Camp Nou. Even Xavi was surprised by the striker’s humility. The Poland international is averaging a goal every 57 minutes and has 11 goals in just eight appearances already. No other player in the club’s history has made such an instant impact in terms of scoring goals – what is your thoughts on him and how he can improve the team, on and off-the-field?

Gill: He’s amazing. It’s as simple as that. He was brought in to score goals, and he’s done that. You did wonder perhaps if Barca were doing the right thing signing an almost 34-year-old for 50 million (even if it was Lewandowski), but it already looks like a great decision. Barca create tons of chances, but they struggled last season to score (particularly after losing Messi). Now they aren’t, and it’s because of Lewandowski. He scores goals other players just can’t. He scores all kinds of goals. And you imagine he’s going to be a brilliant influence on the youngsters. You already mentioned his humility, and it’s plain to see and also how much guys like Pedri and Gavi and Dembele are just loving playing with this man.


UCL Prospects

Ali: Surely, La Liga will be an interesting watch as compared to last years’, with Real Madrid and Barcelona back to competing head-to-head with each other. However, with the quality and depth added to the current Catalan squad, Xavi’s men can be considered as favorites of the tournament, and can aim for the European trophy.

The recent clash with a top-tier opponent such as Bayern Munich displayed glimpses of positive and negative return. The first half was exceptional, they had grip and grit with the ball, were creating enough chances and the great Lewa could have scored twice, Pedri with one good chance too, but the moral of the story, Barca were not clinical at the right time. And as a result, Bayern found their usual flow and form back in the second half, and punished the back line.

Do you think, with consistent changes in the back line, players trying to adapt in a slight different position to cover another teammate (such as Kounde, or Araujo often playing as a right-back) can damage their flow during the course of the European campaign? Does the Lewa factor determine their status in the tourney? What is your opinion for them to succeed, and what can be known as success for them in the Champions League?

Gill: I’m not sure they are the favorites for the Champions League. They didn’t even make it past the group stage last year and have a tough draw this time around. I think the back line will become more settled as the season progresses (depending on injuries), but right-back is an issue. Kounde seems to be first choice there for the big games at the moment (even though he wants to play at center-back), but Xavi does have other options. Something to keep an eye on for sure.

Lewandowski should mean Barca have a better chance, and maybe they can simply outscore teams, but you still need that mentality, belief and know-how in the Champions League. Do Barca have that yet? I’m not sure. You could see how they seemed to fall apart a little against Bayern in those four minutes when the goals went in. But it’s still early days with this team, and they have a lot of young players, let’s see how they grow. I think if they could get to the semi-finals that would be a good run for Barca this season.

And finally, it’s been a pleasure to interview Gill and the Barca Blaugranes’ for sharing us insightful answers to my questions about Barcelona. Don’t forget to check them out, the minute details what’s happening around the Catalan club can be read at!

More blogger interviews will be included over the coming days, and in case you missed them, check out the previous Q & A articles on NMA by clicking on the club name: Bavarian Football Works: Bayern Munich Blog, Cartilage Free Captain: Spurs, We Ain’t Got No History: Chelsea, Into the Calderon: Atletico, and Serpents of Madonnina: Inter Milan.


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