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Five things Xavi must do to avoid a full-blown Barcelona crisis

8:00 AM EST 3/1/23
Xavi Pedri Raphinha Barcelona GFX
After losing two games in a row and with injury concerns growing, Barca head into Thursday's Copa del Rey Clasico with plenty of issues to iron out

Despite their resurgence this season, there was always going to be a difficult period for Barcelona to overcome. At some point the injuries were always going to stack up, and the suspensions collide all at once.

That period of the season has now arrived. Robert Lewandowski, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele are injured. Barring a turn of good fortune, the Blaugrana will spend at least the next two weeks without their top goalscorer, best midfielder and most reliable winger.

A suspension picked up by Gavi also means he will miss Sunday's clash with Valencia; the second such time the teenager has missed a crucial match for disciplinary reasons in the space of 10 days.

Their upcoming fixtures ahead of the March international break aren't the kindest, either. They face Real Madrid twice, first in the Copa del Rey on Thursday, and then in La Liga on March 19. Between those games, they host a struggling Valencia who received a new manager bounce in their last game and have a tricky trip to San Mames to face Athletic Club.

The alarm bells, then, are ringing, but perspective is important.

A loss to Madrid this week would be the third straight defeat in a week, but Barca would still have the second leg next month where they could turn the tie around.

Dropping points in La Liga would be more worrisome, though their seven-point cushion with 15 games to play remains a healthy one.

That doesn't change the fact that after two damaging losses to Manchester United and Almeria, the potential for crisis at Camp Nou is greater than it has been for most of the campaign.

So, how does Xavi avoid things spiralling further out of control and salvage positive results in his team's upcoming games? GOAL takes a look...

  • Pedri Barcelona 2022-23

    Find a way to win without Pedri

    Of all of the midfield injuries Barca have sustained this season, the current one to Pedri hurts the most.

    The 20-year-old was the lynchpin of Xavi's four-man system, the creative force that drove so much of Barca's success in the early weeks of 2023.

    It seems obvious that a team will struggle without one of the world's best midfielders in their side, but Barca have been radically worse without Pedri, winning only 45 percent of their Liga games when he's not been on the field since he arrived at the club in 2020 - compared to 73% when he has been.

    Of course, the absence of one player alone isn't an excuse for a team with league-winning aspirations. But in Pedri's absence, Xavi has pushed on with a similar system, asking the likes of Sergi Roberto and Franck Kessie to simply slide into his star man's spot.

    That stance has returned poor results, with Barca lacking fluidity while asking players to operate in unfamiliar roles. Perhaps the most obvious solution is to return to a three-man midfield of Sergio Busquets, Gavi and Frenkie de Jong against Real Madrid. At the very least, that should offer some stability.

    But with Gavi suspended for the Valencia fixture, though, Xavi faces a different challenge. Youngster Pablo Torre might have been an option to offer some attacking thrust, though reports suggest Xavi has been unimpressed by the summer signing from Racing Santander.

    Regardless of what changes he make, it's clear he cannot continue to play the same way when Pedri isn't there.

  • Raphinha Barcelona

    Replace Lewandowski's goals

    In isolation, Barcelona's attacking performance against Almeria wasn't that bad. The Blaugrana tallied 13 shots, and created four big chances. Had Ronald Araujo adjusted his body position on two crosses in the final five minutes, Barca could have walked away 2-1 winners. That star striker Lewandowski was clearly playing through an injury didn't help, either.

    Lewandowski has subsequently been ruled out for two weeks. The Blaugrana faced a similar problem in January and made do, largely thanks to Ousmane Dembele's form in front of goal.

    But this time, Dembele is out too, leaving Barca with a handful of out-of-form attacking players to rely on.

    Ansu Fati hasn't scored in La Liga since October. Ferran Torres hasn't found the net in 2023. Raphinha, meanwhile, is maddeningly inconsistent in front of goal. Ferran is the only one of the three with real experience of playing as a central striker, but Xavi has seemed reluctant to try him there.

    For the next few weeks, though, it might be a case of needs must. Barca need goals, and they need them now.

  • Ansu Fati Barcelona 2022-23

    Revitalise Ansu Fati

    One of those three main attacking players has to produce something, but the player who looks the least likely right now is Ansu Fati.

    Ferran has shown signs of returning to form, while Raphinha still pops up with the odd goal or assist. Fati, meanwhile, is stagnating, overzealous on the ball and wasteful in front of goal.

    It is a lot to ask of a 20-year-old to suddenly recapture his electric form of three years ago, but he's also the most talented of the three attackers available to Xavi.

    Perhaps he will benefit from being handed a bigger role. Given Barca's slate of injuries, there appears to be little competition for Fati in the side. He can, for once, afford to make mistakes without fear of being dropped.

    Xavi will hope that giving Fati time will yield results. The forward can be devastating at his best, and despite being hit with a litany of injuries, has shown flashes of the teenager that was once the heir-apparent to Lionel Messi.

    If Fati finds form, Barca should stay afloat.

  • Jordi Alba Barcelona 2022-23

    Drop Jordi Alba... for good

    Though Jordi Alba is no longer a guaranteed starter, Xavi has still entrusted the full-back with plenty of minutes this season.

    Alba has mostly played second fiddle to 19-year-old Alejandro Balde since the World Cup, appearing in 10 games to the youngster's 13. And although Alba has started a higher percentage of his games, it is clear that the Barca hierarchy trust their teenage talent.

    Bringing Balde in as a full-time starter can go a long way to stabilising Barca's season. Not only does he have more legs than Alba, but he is also a more viable attacking threat. He gets forward more consistently and has been unlucky at times not to grab a goal for himself.

    His impressive performance in the final of the Spanish Supercopa back in January showed what Balde can do in the big games. Now, he needs to play all of them, despite his inexperience.

  • Pablo Torre Barcelona 2022-23

    Trust in youth to create chances

    Perhaps the most worrying aspect of Barcelona's performance against Almeria is how predictable they were. The home side nullified every Barca move and countered every moment.

    Raphinha was swarmed every time he touched the ball, Gavi had no space in central midfield, and Lewandowski, though playing through an injury, was marked out of the game.

    With a series of key players absent, Xavi could simply bring in the more experienced faces. Sergi Roberto could plug a hole in midfield. Kessie could retain his place.

    But that would do little to change Barca's predictability. Instead, Xavi should give youth a try, especially against Valencia on Sunday. With Gavi suspended, there is a midfield spot open.

    That space should go to 19-year-old Pablo Torre. Meanwhile, if Ferran or Fati need a rest, 18-year-old Angel Alarcon - who has 12 goals for Barcelona Under-19s this season - could be given a shot.

    Neither player has any real first-team pedigree - at least in the top-flight - but they can both make things happen in attack. And that's exactly what Barcelona are crying out for.