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Barcelona

Barcelona have made quite the recovery in recent months. Not only have they climbed into the top four of La Liga, but they are also into the latter stages of the Europa League.

It wasn’t an immediate turnaround under manager Xavi, but the Barcelona legend has slowly but surely steadied the ship.

Losing the one and only Lionel Messi was always going to have a hugely negative impact on the club. But perhaps no one at Barcelona was truly prepared for life without their Argentine superstar.

Messi’s feats in Spain will go down in history, with the forward undoubtedly among the greatest players that the game has ever and will ever see. He left in somewhat acrimonious circumstances, with his departure very poorly handled by the powers that be at Barcelona.

Perhaps the winger will return to Camp Nou someday soon. He seems destined for one last ride with his beloved Catalan club. For now, however, it seems they are coping just fine without him.

And there are a handful of reasons as to why the sun is shining on Camp Nou once again.

Xavi steadying the ship at Barcelona

Xavi certainly took a risk in returning to Barca. His predecessor Ronald Koeman was a club legend for his feats on the pitch, but the Dutch boss was unable to replicate such feats from the dugout.

Barcelona also took a risk in bringing back another former player, not only because of previous events with Koeman but also due to Xavi’s inexperience as a manager. He spent just over two years in charge of Qatar outfit Al Sadd.

But a win rate of just over 65% from just over 100 games was enough to convince the Spanish club to bring back their iconic midfielder. His first game kicked things off perfectly, with Barca defeating rivals Espanyol 1-0. And his latest was hugely impressive, demolishing Athletic Bilbao 4-0.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but it’s been hugely impressive. Xavi has eight wins from his 13 La Liga matches so far. He’s drawn four of those and has lost just one. Koeman left with the club in ninth. They now sit fourth under Xavi.

But with all those highs, there have been a few lows, with Barca losing 3-2 to fierce enemies Real Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final. This was followed by a disappointing 3-2 loss to Atheltic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey round of 16, having previously edged past Linares Deportivo in the round of 32.

Barcelona

European adventure in full swing

Speaking of highs and lows, Xavi has had a bit of both in Europe. A draw and a loss in his two Champions League group stage matches resulted in the club dropping into the Europa League.

A tough test awaited against Napoli, and that’s exactly what it was in the first leg. The Italians left Spain with a 1-1 draw. But the tie exploded into life at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, with the visitors winning 4-2 to secure a spot in the Europa League round of 16. A tricky test against Galatasary awaits in March.

Of course, no manager’s system and tactics can be brought to life without a specific group of players. Both signings and academy graduates have been key to the recent success on the pitch, with both groups combining expertly to bring about such success.

Incoming players hitting the ground running

The old guard of Messi, Luis Suarez, and Antoine Griezmann are long gone. The likes of Frenkie de Jong, Eric Garcia, Memphis Depay, Sergino Dest, Luuk De Jong, and Sergio Aguero have all arrived at Barcelona in recent years. But among that group, only a handful have really cemented their place in the starting XI.

That is because, in his only transfer window so far, Xavi has brought in his own crowd. And they have all been a huge hit. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Adama Traore, Ferran Torres, and Dani Alves all joined the Catalan club in the January transfer window.

Aubameyang has already found the back of the net a handful of times, while Traore has hit the ground running immediately, chipping in with several crucial assists so far.

Moreover, Xavi has even managed to calm the noise around talented forward Ousmane Dembele. He looked certain to leave in January but has since found his way back into the Barcelona team.

Barcelona

La Masia graduates shining brightly

While signings have been key, perhaps the most exciting element of this new-look squad has been the youngsters involved.

The club’s famous La Masia academy has produced the likes of Messi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, and Pedro over the years. Now there is a new crop of young academy stars looking to take on the mantle.

The very best of this new generation is perhaps midfielder Gavi. The 17-year-old has shone in the heart of the Barca midfield this season. Another hugely exciting talent is 19-year-old forward Ansu Fati.

Xavi himself came from La Masia, as did current players Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, and Sergi Roberto. One can only imagine the kind of teaching that the latest crop are receiving from these experienced club members.

There are, of course, a handful of other exceptionally talented youngsters among the club’s ranks. This includes 19-year-old Pedri and 22-year-old centre-back Ronald Araujo.

What does the future hold for Barcelona?

A trophy would be a huge boost for Xavi, but perhaps Champions League qualification is the only aim this season. Maintaining a spot in the top four of La Liga until the end of the campaign will certainly be a priority.

The Catalan outfit are 15 points behind leaders Real Madrid, so a title chase is undoubtedly off the cards at this stage of the season. It won’t stop them from trying, but remaining unbeaten until the end of the campaign would be a very decent compromise.

As for players, the permanent signature of Traore could also be high on the agenda. As will securing the long-term future of Ousmane Dembele.

Barcelona

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