Barça head coach Xavi. / REUTERS

Keep the faith in Xavi

Meanwhile, Ancelotti is getting full recognition for the job he's doing at Real Madrid

Rob Palmer
ROB PALMER

For the first time in his illustrious footballing career, Xavi Hernández is under scrutiny and needs to protect himself following a troubling week in Barcelona.

As a player, life was successfully smooth; his first coaching job in Qatar was a luxurious joyride; and when he arrived back at Barcelona, he was hailed as the saviour.

It has been 11 months of positivity for Xavi since he accepted the challenge of righting the many wrongs at the Camp Nou. Only now are questions being asked.

The coach was left with a mixture of players. He's moulded a formidable team from a handful of outstanding teenagers, some veterans and more-than-useful signings.

Inspired by the goals of Lewandowski, they won seven straight games and went into El Clásico as leaders. Expectations were high. But a loss to their eternal rivals followed defeat to Inter Milan in the Champions League.

It's not a crisis, it's a reality check. Barça fans are realising that he can no longer rely on veterans Piqué or Busquets.

Statisticians tell us that as he reached his 50th game, Xavi wasn't as successful as his predecessor. The difference is that he's still rebuilding.

Barça fans must keep faith. Lewandowski still has superpowers, Koundé is a great signing, Araujo is missing at the moment, and he has the best bunch of teenagers in Europe in Ansu Fati, Gavi or Pedri. It will continue to be seven steps forward, two steps back.

Over at the Bernabeu all is swell. Ancelotti is overseeing a transition as he changes the faces in the team, if not the face of the team.

Over the past couple of seasons, Varane and Ramos have been replaced by Militão and Alaba. Tchouaméni looks to be an upgrade on Casemiro, Vinicius is flourishing into a world-class player and Valverde is taking his game to another level.

The Italian expertly manages the minutes of the old guard who still have miles left in their legs compared to their Barcelona compatriots. Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić, and Karim Benzema are still peaking in the major games, and he carefully rests and rotates them when they’re not vital.

It's advantage Real Madrid right now, but we are a long way from game, set and match.