“Recharge Required: Xavi and Barcelona Seek Reset During International Break”

Some supporters have been calling for the coach's resignation due to a string of poor performances, and there are still important games after the international break.

Following Barcelona’s victory over Alaves on Sunday, Xavi was forced to defend himself right away. Not for the first time in recent weeks, his squad relied on individual brilliance to lift a depressing performance. The Blaugrana’s face was rescued this time by Robert Lewandowski, but even his double in the second half could not disguise the reality that Barca had performed poorly once more.

For Xavi, this has now become an annual ritual. The manager encountered similar inquiries a little more than a year into his time at Barca. During that period, the Blaugrana were not doing well in the Champions League and had just lost a heartbreaking Clasico, which raised some difficult concerns. Could this legendary club member truly manage the position without much managerial experience?

Naturally, Xavi made it through, but only after declaring in the open that he would accept being fired by Barca. Eight months later, he won a Liga trophy that covered up some obvious weaknesses in his team but brought him back to winning ways. While Barca’s defense was strong enough to win the league, their offensive capabilities were inadequate. This was hardly the Pep Guardiola-inspired, La Masia-bred football that Xavi had promised. This team produced outcomes with a work ethic reminiscent of Jose Mourinho.

One year on, and while the situations are somewhat similar, things have also changed. On the field, the same defensive unit that carried the Blaugrana to the league title is markedly worse. At the other end, the litany of big-name signings that were supposed to make Barca an attacking force haven’t really had the desired effect. They are third in La Liga, but if a surging Atletico Madrid can win their game in hand, the Blaugrana will slip down to fourth.

The press has, inevitably, snatched onto the narrative, and the usually calm manager took the bait after Sunday’s victory, proclaiming that his players are feeling the pressure of an overeager local media — a remark that only fuelled the flames of scepticism.

And so just past his two-year anniversary in the job, Xavi finds himself under the spotlight again. But with a crucial run of games to come almost immediately after the international break, he must find the answers quickly to ensure Barca’s season – and his future – isn’t defined before the turn of the year.

Unfair criticism

The term Xavi used to describe the recent coverage of his team was “not fair” following the Alaves win. He said that his side was “more tense than normal”, and admitted that they weren’t “at their best.” It was his job, Xavi conceded, to turn things around, revive the mood, and inspire a comeback win, but the manager also claimed that he wouldn’t have to if those covering the team wer more positive.

“Without doubt what the media say affects how the team plays,” he said. “The [media] create situations and scenarios that, for me, are not real. And it affects, without any doubt, the team.”

Stories and opinions around Barcelona are nothing new. Xavi himself admitted that media scrutiny affected him as a player, and set expectations for the of great teams he played in. It has, however, only grown in intensity in recent years.

Barca have borne the brunt of criticism from Spanish media, in particular, for their enumerate controversies off the pitch. Club president Joan Laporta’s obsession with so-called “levers” to revive their fledgling finances, the ongoing investigation into their payments of a high-ranking refereeing official, and their inability to register academy products to first-team contracts have all added to what is already a frenzy for press both local and afar. His youngsters, Xavi admitted, were struggling with all of the scrutiny.

And in a sense, Xavi has a point here. Sixteen-year-old Lamine Yamal still goes to school, while 19-year-old Gavi only just learned how to drive. Fermin Lopez, practically ancient at 20, has only made five La Liga starts. But this is also Barcelona, and this is a manager who should know not only what the media pressures are, but also how to control them.

Xavi cannot snatch his players’ phones away, or censor what they hear on the street. But he can control what comes out of his own mouth. Calling out members of the press who don’t need any excuses to heighten their criticism has only increased the scrutiny on him and his team.

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