Barcelona’s Journey Towards Redemption: A Look at the Team’s Turnaround

Barcelona has gone through a tumultuous time since their last La Liga win. However, their recent 4-2 victory against Espanyol has allowed them to celebrate their 27th league title victory. Nevertheless, a fan invasion cut any celebrations short. It is hardly surprising that Xavi Hernandez, the Barcelona manager, pointed out that the crosstown rivals wouldn’t grudge them their celebrations. He stated that they felt it was more respectful to return to the locker room after the incident.

Barcelona players celebrate after the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Espanyol and Barcelona (AP)

The Catalan club has seen a lot of changes since Xavi was a player. Issues like Covid-19 and payments of $8 million from 2001 to 2018 to a company owned by a member of the Spanish federation’s refereeing committee have surfaced. Moreover, their 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich, Messi’s emotional departure, and the financial turmoil of the club have come to light. The support of American company Sixth Street and a $725 million television rights sale came at the right time, making it possible to sign players like Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, and Jules Kounde.

As indication of good value for their investments, Kounde has been outstanding as a right-back, Raphinha has notched up seven goals and seven assists, and Lewandowski with his 21 goals (13 in just 12 games, a league record) has put himself up for the golden boot. Since the 2014-2015 season, a Barcelona player has won the golden boot every year, aside from last season. If Lewandowski does clinch the title, will it signify a return to the glory days from 2005-2019 when Barcelona won 10 La Liga titles and four Champions League titles?

Xavi did not go this far, but he stated that the team’s recent league conquest has given the project some consistency. He said that “The league title shows that things have been done the right way and that we have to stay on this path.”

Although there were early missteps, such as their 1-3 loss to Real Madrid in October, which prompted newspaper AS to write that Xavi was “nude and not an emperor,” Barcelona won the League comfortably, leading from the 14th round in October. Their win against Franck Kessie’s late goal in March was the crucial step that put them 12 points ahead of Real Madrid, the defending champions.

Barcelona beat Real 1-0 in the Copa del Rey semi-finals, but the men in white won the return leg to overpower them 4-0. Therefore, they must keep working, as evident from their elimination from the Champions League – causing a loss of over €20m – and the Europa League. Nonetheless, winning one of the world’s most fiercely contested leagues is an excellent way to rebuild.

Replacing Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, and possibly Jordi Alba is no simple task, but Barcelona has handled this well. Araujo and Alejandro Balde have been impressive replacements for Pique and Alba, but they will need the equivalent of Busquets. This may prove challenging without sporting director Mateu Alemany and possibly director of football Jordi Cruyff.

Nevertheless, with Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets at the heart of the midfield, Gavi on the left and Pedri on the right, Barcelona has found the balance that eluded the team earlier in the season. Gavi’s ability to shift and create space for Balde to move forward, and Kounde’s movement to center-back has improved defensive stability. The team has only conceded two goals at home and 13 in total – the fewest among the top five European leagues. Barcelona has won 11 games with a 1-0 scoreline, trading their once-fanciful play for a more dogged style.

With 25 clean sheets, Marc-Andre ter Stegen is one short of breaking the league record. After two disappointing seasons and a spell away from the game, he has regained form and is now one of the team’s vice-captains. Barcelona’s high turnovers in the opponents’ half have been crucial to winning 27 of their 34 games this season, as it has allowed them to press more effectively. Finally, it is an essential step towards the team’s recalibration.

Barcelona must generate €200m before registering the new contracts of Araujo and Gavi. As a result, some players will undoubtedly be sold, such as Ousmane Dembele, De Jong, and maybe Ansu Fati, whose career has been plagued by injury. Meanwhile, Camp Nou is under renovation, so Barcelona will move to the smaller Olympic Stadium, with adverse effects on gate sales.

However, according to Ter Stegen, “we are growing again,” a sign that there is hope for the team in the future. Lewandowski, along with young talents like Pedri, Gavi, Balde, Araujo, and Kounde, has given the team reason to believe that the future is bright for Barcelona, despite a rocky beginning to the season.

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