The overriding sentiment from Barcelona’s 0-0 draw at home to Benfica on Tuesday night will probably be frustration.
Frustration that Frenkie de Jong’s header was just too central to beat Odysseas Vlachodimos, frustration that Ronald Araujo found himself just offside before volleying the ball into the back of the net, and frustration that a dominant display didn’t result in the victory that would’ve sealed Champions League progression.
While there is reason to bemoan the missed chances and ask ‘what if?’, the prevalent feeling should undoubtedly be hope.
Why? Because Xavi is home. And boy, does it show.
A few weeks ago La Blaugrana were down and out. Now, they enter the pitch with their chins up and tails wagging. A squad previously infested with despondency and despair are now playing with freedom and imagination. Throughout the early stages of the 2021/22 season, they were the antithesis of what the footballing world loves about Barcelona. Now, they look worthy of carrying that name.
The Camp Nou necropolis is resurging into something special.
This, simply and quite obviously, is due to the dismissal of Ronald Koeman and the subsequent introduction of Xavi. From a more pragmatic and coarse style that provoked little excitement from anywhere in the club now exists, well, the true Barcelona way.
After all, alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, he represents all that was masterfully elegant and almost inimitable about the great Barcelona teams of the 21st century.
The first game of the 41-year-old’s tenure produced a hard-fought and respectable 1-0 win against city rivals Espanyol in La Liga, before facing Benfica in a crucial Champions League clash on Tuesday.
And in 180 minutes of football, the Barcelona faithful were given more reason to lift themselves from their seats than the whole of this campaign thus far. Indeed, despite being diminished to about half capacity because of the rain (yes, really, they didn’t turn up because of showers), the noise was incessant throughout the 0-0 draw. In spite of the disappointing result, it was a night to enjoy for the Camp Nou crowd.
From the swift gliding around challenges to drive the side upfield, to the composed playing around opposition press, and from measured through balls into channels to quick, untraceable and close-range triangular passing – there were flashes of the collective, creative style that has captivated the global audience for so long.
The likes of Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Gavi and Nico Gonzalez – old and new – mixed perfectly to create a perfect concoction, in what was a creative, exciting, dominant and progressive display.
Of course, we most definitely will not see the same quality as the great Barcelona teams from recent times for a good few years. There is a project at the club – one that will take a while to materialise into another golden era – but it’s clear that the young players are central to that and, under Xavi, they will blossom into something great.