Camp Nou legend Xavi Hernandez enters a decisive spell of his Barcelona managerial career when Blaugrana travel to the Mestalla to face Valencia on Saturday night before hosting basement club Almeria on Wednesday, December 20. Muffled noises over Barcelona’s inconsistent results, kamikaze defending and fractured performances reached a crescendo when the reigning Liga Santander champions fell 2-3 in a Uefa Champions League group game to Marco van Bommel’s inexperienced Royal Antwerp outfit midweek.
It was Barca’s second successive loss following last Sunday’s 2-4 setback to leaders Girona at the Estadio Municipal de Montilivi. None of the club’s notoriously fickle board has publicly come out to support the man who guided the club to their first Liga Santander crown in four years. Patience is wearing thin due to a chequered recent record that has yielded four losses in eight outings across all competitions. This simply isn’t the Barcelona way.
Although Barcelona have won each of their last five matches against Valencia, trips to the Mestalla traditionally draw trepidation from the Blaugrana faithful who nicknamed Valencia ‘the Black Breasts’ thanks to their propensity to upset the applecart. Matters have been complicated by an injury to reigning Liga Santander player of year Marco Andre ter Stegen.
For Barcelona’s own defensive good, Xavi might have to revert to a 3-4-3 with Joao Cancelo and Alejandro Balde deployed as wing backs and Andreas Christensen, Ronald Araujo and Jules Kounde manning a three man central defense. Barcelona have been unbalanced by the loss of the experience, control and directing intelligence Sergio Busquets gave the side. Finding a suitable combination of players to replace him may well be the key to unlocking the team from it’s present malaise.
With surprise package Girona not in action until Monday when they host Deportivo Alaves, record champions Real Madrid can seize temporary leadership of the standings if they overcome Villarreal on Sunday evening. Both sides were buoyed by identical 3-2 victories in Europe midweek, with Los Blancos triumphant at Union Berlin and Yellow Sub Marine sinking Stade Rennes on Thursday night.
Osasuna v Rayo Vallecano
Celta Vigo , Granada,
Athletic Bilbao , Atletico Madrid,
Sevilla v Getafe,
Valencia v Barcelona
Almeria v Mallorca,
Real Sociedad v Real Betis,
Las Palmas v Cadiz,
Real Madrid v Villarreal
Girona v Deportivo Alaves