Look, we might as well get this out of the way at the start.
This article is going to require a lot of imagination and by no means are we saying that what we suggest here is the most likely scenario.
But, there is a good chance that Xavi Hernandez could turn Barcelona into a competitive team this season.
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For those who maybe don’t follow Spanish football as much, Xavi (we assume you heard that news?) takes over a Barcelona who are sitting ninth in the league table.

Xavi (r) with Joan Laporta - FC Barcelona

Image credit: Getty Images

You can take your pick of disappointing results. The losses against Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid, draws against Granada, Cadiz and Alaves. It’s not been pretty to watch. Their best result might have been the first game of the season when they beat league leaders Real Sociedad 4-2, the only defeat of the season for Imanol Alguacil’s side.
So you’d be forgiven for assuming the best Xavi can do is get the team into the top four and the Champions League.
The suggestion from most quarters is that this group of players just isn’t good enough to play at the same level as Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid or even Real Sociedad.
That’s sort of true.
But it also sort of isn’t.
There are some genuinely world-class players (most of whom tend to be a bit younger) and you can piece together a squad of 13 or 14 that you can put up against those teams and they might stack up, or at least get closer than most people think.
So where can the differences come?
Let’s start with the player that Xavi singled out during his unveiling, Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman has become a bit of a meme at Barcelona, partly because of his seemingly constant injuries and partly because he is borderline unstoppable on this year’s edition of FIFA, a stark contrast to his on the field performance in real life.

Ousmane Dembélé vom FC Barcelona

Image credit: Imago

“For me, Dembele, he can be the best player in the world in his position,” Xavi told reporters.
“But you have to work with him and demand it. It depends on him, on his mentality, that he is free from injury, that he has high performance levels.
“His renewal is a priority for me.”
This is a change in tone from the reports coming out from the club in the past that they would be happy to see him leave when his contract expires next summer.
But it’s important to remember that Dembele is a supremely talented player still. It’s important to remember that when he came through at Rennes he was being talked about in the same breath as Eduardo Camavinga last season. And it’s important to remember that he’s still just 24 at a club that was supposedly “his big dream.”
If you can unlock Dembele on the right with the returning Ansu Fati on the left and Memphis Depay (La Liga’s fifth-highest scorer) through the middle you could have a pretty handy front three. Are they at the same level as Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr? No, but they don’t have to be.

Ansu Fati (FC Barcelone)

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The important theme to consider here is not about Barcelona being better than someone like Real. It’s about the gap between the two not being as embarrassing as it currently is (and was during the recent Clasico). Xavi could get top four and be 10-15 points off the teams in first, second and third and that could consistute a failure. But if he can get wins in the big games and close the gap down to five to eight points, that’s a big sign of progress. He’s starting six points behind Atletico in fourth and 10 behind Real and Sevilla in second and third respectively. No-one thinks they’re going to win the title.
Right with that out of the way let’s look at the midfield and that’s where you can start to get really excited as a Barcelona fan.
The young core of Pedri, Gavi and Nico is without a doubt the best young trio of midfielders in the world. Some clubs might have one or two but no club has a triumvirate of young midfielders as good as Barcelona. And who better for them to learn from than Xavi? It’s hyperbolic but their potential is to be like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets being tutored by Pep Guardiola.

Pedro Gonzalez 'Pedri' of FC Barcelona

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Of course that might not happen and it’s in the future but in the present they have all already shown that they are ready to contribute right now. With a clear tactical plan of what they need to do when they have the ball (something that was badly lacking under Ronald Koeman) expect them to flourish.
Don’t write off Frenkie De Jong either. This is a guy who Xavi called “a player who can mark a new era at Barcelona,” and “an extraordinary footballer.” De Jong feels like one of the most underrated players at the club and he could be the poster-boy of the revolution under Xavi in a possession-based system.
Okay we’ve put it off long enough. Let’s talk about the defence. It’s not great.
Nine clubs in La Liga have conceded fewer goals than Barcelona so far this season, a number that has to drastically change in the next 26 games if they are going to be competitive.
It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what has gone wrong. Ronald Araujo being injured and only starting four games is definitely one. Gerard Pique being 34 is certainly another. Oh and Eric Garcia has turned out not to be anywhere near as good as was expected, that’s a big one. Sergio Busquets being an ever-present is not entirely what you want at this stage either.

Eric Garcia

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So how can it be fixed?
How Xavi and his coaching staff approach this issue will be the most important aspect of his managerial career with Barcelona. So expect some experimentation in terms of personnel and formation. We expect a 4-3-3 from Xavi but actually he’s used a 3-4-3 often during his time in Qatar. Playing Araujo, Garcia and Pique together (or even shifting Busquets into the defence) might help hide some of their deficiencies. It would also allow Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest to focus on what they do best, rather than worry constantly about which winger will make them look foolish this week. Plus you know your wingers love to cut in so it allows you to create overloads in different areas.
It’s certainly a little concerning to see mostly offensive names in the transfer rumours rather than defensive, and hopefully for Xavi’s sake that trend will change over the next few weeks before the window opens. The tentative links to Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger makes perfect sense as someone who can become the leader of the defensive group as Pique gets phased out.
Look, nobody said it would be easy. Barcelona have been a shambolicly run club for a few years now and Xavi, Joan Laporta and whomever replaces Ramon Planes will have to work hard to undo the mess and get the squad back to an elite level.
But the building blocks are there. And if Xavi is who Barcelona think he is then he should be capable of turning them into a team that live with the best teams in Spain. Will he win the title? It’s highly doubtful. But can he make things uncomfortable for Barcelona’s rivals? You bet he can.
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