Barcelona have gone into the World Cup break at the top of the La Liga table. They are two points above traditional rivals Real Madrid after the completion of 14 games.
The Catalan giants registered a 2-1 away win over Osasuna last week, thus, making it 12 wins from 14 games played so far this season. With most major football leagues now on hold for the World Cup, here are three takeaways from Barcelona’s season till now.
#Marc-Andre ter Stegen back to his best
After the last two campaigns littered with errors, poor decision-making on and off the ball and inability to command his box, many wondered if they would ever get to see Marc-Andre ter Stegen back to the form that he showed in his first two seasons at Barcelona. And boy, he has answered!
Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 30, is enjoying the best season of his career at Camp Nou. In 14 La Liga games, he has conceded only five goals and recorded a stunning 11 clean sheets in the process. That puts him top for clean sheets in the big five European Leagues.
The German shot-stopper’s impact and improvement in performances can be seen in the table and through the fact that Xavi Hernandez’s side have conceded only five goals. Like any team, a goalkeeper in superb form resonates throughout the side, especially in the defence, and it is apparent how Ter Stegen’s return to form has impacted Barcelona.
Barcelona head coach Xavi Hernandez has never shied away from putting trust in youngsters, and his work with some of the club’s burgeoning talents especially Alejandro Balde, Ansu Fati, Gavi and Pablo Torre appears to be promising.
Alejandro Balde is enjoying his breakthrough campaign, with his positional sense, strength and tactical acumen belying his tender years. He is showing signs of solving the club’s defensive problems, while Fati continues to sizzle in attack.
Gavi has already become a mainstay in midfield, and his skill set, youthful exuberance, tenacity, creativity and competitive edge make him a special player at Xavi’s disposal. Going by how much Xavi is showing trust in youngsters, it would not be a surprise to watch a couple of La Masia academy starlets break into the side next term.
#Barcelona are a work in progress under Xavi
It has been an up-and-down season for Barcelona so far. In La Liga, barring a couple of blemishes—a 3-1 defeat in the El Clasico last month—the Blaugrana have been spotless. 12 wins, 1 loss and a draw in 14 games is an exemplary record, one that rightly puts them at the summit of the division.
The problem has been in Europe for Barcelona. They have been knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage for the second season running, ruffling a few feathers for Xavi and his coaching team.
Nonetheless, Xavi’s Barcelona side remain a work in progress. Under the Spaniard, the team has come a long way but it is understandable to see the mistakes they are still making, both individually and collectively. On a positive note, there is a fighting spirit back in the team, they are playing more as a unit with more intensity and showing real character.
After the disappointing 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the El Clasico, Barcelona have bounced back emphatically with five straight league wins, scoring 12 goals in the process. There are still going to be a lot of ups and downs but one thing is certain—Xavi is building something special at Camp Nou.