Barcelona for years now have often teetered on the brink of ruin, only to pull themselves out of whatever quagmire threatened to swallow them up.
Money struggles have been at the forefront of their issues, forcing them to get creative with their investments to keep up with Europe’s biggest spenders while mitigating the risk of financial oblivion.
Throughout Xavi’s managerial tenure at Barcelona, the club has largely overcome the biggest hurdles. Despite struggles in European competition, bounced from the Champions League group stage in each of the previous two seasons, they won the 2022/23 La Liga title and hoisted the Supercopa de Espana that season as well.
Hoping to build on those triumphs and return the club to its previously dominant level, Barcelona have instead displayed significant flaws this year, trending back down instead of continuing to push forward.
“We have not improved much,” Xavi said following a nervy come-from-behind win over Deportivo Alaves heading into the November international break. “We are in a rough patch. It’s not the best time, but we still managed to get six points from two games that were looking really bad.”
Most recently, a 1-1 draw with Rayo Vallecano following the November internationals has cast further doubt on Xavi’s future. Results and, more importantly, performance levels will need to improve if the club legend is to ward off further scrutiny after just over two years in the job.
The Sporting News looks at what has gone wrong for Barcelona this season and where Xavi stands with the club’s most influential decision-makers.
Could Barcelona fire Xavi? Why pressure is building
Xavi was a beloved player at Barcelona and has been well-liked by the majority of the fanbase during his managerial tenure, which began in November 2021 following the departure of Ronald Koeman. Yet things have taken a bit of a turn this season, as the club falls victim to the same mistakes and weaknesses time and again.
At this point, it seems Xavi has the support of the club hierarchy. “There’s complete calmness with Xavi,” said Barcelona sporting director Deco prior to the narrow win over Deportivo Alaves in mid-November, while Xavi claimed he received support from president Joan Laporta over the phone in the leadup to the match as well.
Yet they have just two wins in their past five games across all competitions, begging further questions. It hasn’t put them in truly significant trouble in either La Liga or Champions League standings, but continued disappointments could be damaging.
They sit third in the Spanish top flight, three points back of surprise leaders Girona, but after a 1-1 draw with Rayo Vallecano in late November, everyone around them has at least one game in hand. The Blaugrana still reside atop their Champions League group, but they are within striking distance of third-place Shakhtar Donetsk if they were to continue to falter. Shakhtar beat them 1-0 on matchday four.
Blaming the media for negativity around the club hasn’t helped his cause. “I have no doubts that what the media states ultimately affects our team,” Xavi said when asked why his team isn’t playing well. “The ‘entorno’ here creates situations that, in my opinion, aren’t real. They are too negative, and that does not help the team.”
Xavi’s use of “entorno” refers to the constant media noise around the team, which every big club across Europe must handle.
What’s gone wrong at Barcelona?
Injuries and poor attacking form have led Barcelona deeper into something of a negative stretch as the 2023 calendar year races to a close.
The Catalan club has seen a host of key players who contribute heavily in the attacking third fall victim to fitness concerns, including a few long-term injuries that have caused Xavi a major headache.
Robert Lewandowski missed some time through October with an ankle injury, only returning as a substitute in the 2-1 Clasico loss to Real Madrid in October, while Frenkie de Jong and Pedri have only just returned to the pitch after months on the sideline. Then, young heartbeat Gavi went down with a devastating ACL tear on international duty, seeing his season almost surely cut short.
Those injuries have compounded chance creation and finishing issues. Since hanging five goals on Royal Antwerp to begin Champions League play in mid-September, followed by a three-goal performance against Celta Vigo in league action, Barcelona have been anemic up front.
Barcelona have scored more than one goal in just four of 11 games across all competitions since then, failing to reach three goals in any of those matches. Across the eight La Liga games in that span, Barcelona have 11 goals to their name, which ranks eighth in the Spanish top flight, while their 42 shots on target rank sixth.
The loss of De Jong was a key miss, as the embattled Dutchman began the season in great form, suggesting a turnaround from his previous struggles was ahead. Now, they’ll have to progress forward without Gavi, a midfield lynchpin who had grown into one of their most important and beloved figures.
Barcelona upcoming fixtures for Xavi to save his job
Barcelona now face a critical stretch of games in which Xavi may very well sink or swim.
With the finish to their Champions League group stage on the horizon, Barcelona face a pair of games to decide their fate, first against FC Porto at home followed by the finale at Royal Antwerp. Sitting atop the Group H standings, Barcelona are still in peril, level on points with Porto and only three ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk, who beat Barca back in early November.
Sandwiched between those European games are gargantuan home league matches against Atletico Madrid and Girona, who could both sit above Barcelona at the time those games are played. Those two fixtures could make or break Barcelona’s league standing heading into the festive season.
Barcelona upcoming fixtures, schedule in 2023/24
|Tue, Nov. 28
|vs. FC Porto
|Sun, Dec. 3
|vs. Atletico Madrid
|Sun, Dec. 10
|Wed, Dec. 13
|at Royal Antwerp
|Sat, Dec. 16
|Wed, Dec. 20
|Wed, Jan. 3
|at Las Palmas
How to watch La Liga in 2023/24
|Select matches: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes
|ESPN+, (Select matches: Fubo)
|Viaplay Sports, La Liga TV, (Select matches: ITV)
|Select matches: TSN, TSN2
|TSN+ (Select matches: Fubo)
|Select matches: beIN Sports
|beIN Sports Connect
|Select matches: beIN Sports
|beIN Sports Connect
|Now Player, M Plus Live