You know things are going well at Barcelona when the coach gives the players a day off and they turn up for training anyway.
Xavi had told his squad they did not need to come in until Thursday this week but 11 stars reported to the Joan Gamper training ground on Monday – anything to help keep the momentum going after winning three games on the bounce for the first time this season.
They put four past Valencia 10 days ago. They then put four past Napoli, the meanest defence in Italy, to progress in the Europa League. And then they made it 12 in three games against Athletic Bilbao, at the time the third-best defence in La Liga.
Barcelona have scored 12 goals in their last three games against Bilbao, Napoli and Valencia
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has now scored five goals since joining Barcelona last month
It’s little wonder that Xavi is beginning to think he might be getting a free dinner out off his pal Carles Puyol – promised if he wins the Europa League – and they might even be able to make things uncomfortable for the top two, Real Madrid and Sevilla.
Spanish outlet Diario AS reported on Tuesday that Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Sergio Roberto, Pedri, Ferran Torres, Martin Braithwaite, Memphis Depay, Dani Alves, Marc Andre ter Stegen and Frenkie de Jong all came in to train on their day off.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Adama Traore were not on the list but they have been huge hits since arriving from Arsenal and Wolves. Aubameyang’s goals-per-game ratio is as good as Rivaldo and Romario’s when they joined.
And Adama is enjoying the simplicity of what Xavi wants him to do – receive the ball high up the pitch and wide, and get it into the area as soon as he can.
Someone else who thrives doing just that is Ousmane Dembele, the much-maligned French winger who has not been a big part of Xavi’s revival.
He keeps getting whistled every time he comes on at the Nou Camp. And he keeps showing that he doesn’t really care. The smattering of jeers on Sunday did not deter him from scoring a brilliant goal and setting up two more.
He didn’t even protest about the whistles when he celebrated – no index finger to the lips or fingers in ears for Dembele.
He did run to Xavi, who patted him on the head. The coach wants him to stay and president Joan Laporta said this week that he hopes Dembele will reconsider at the end of the season and remain at the club.
Adama Traore (left) is enjoying the simplicity of what Xavi wants him to do – receive the ball high up the pitch and wide, and get it into the area as soon as he can; while and Ferran Torres (right) is finding his feet despite not yet scoring a goal in LaLiga
Ousmane Dembele ran to Xavi who patted him on the head after his goal on Sunday night
Nothing can be ruled out. Dembele favoured staying in January before the stand-off between the club and his agent descended into accusations from one and talk of him never playing for the club again from the other.
If Dembele does stay it will have to be at the reduced offer that has already been made to him. The big money is being held back for Erling Haaland. De Telegraaf has reported that last Friday, Jordi Cruyff, Laporta and Mino Raiola met in Monaco to discuss the possibility of bringing him to the Nou Camp.
The player likes the idea of going head-to-head with Kylian Mbappe at Real Madrid in a revival of the Messi-Ronaldo rivalry that characterized LaLiga for so long.
What needs to be made to work is that Barcelona need to construct a payment plan that allows them to finance the transfer and all the associated add-ons and commissions, while still in their, slowly loosening, financial straitjacket.
The big money at the Nou Camp is being held back for Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland
Another thing that Barcelona will hope helps persuade Haaland is a desire to play in front of what is shaping as the best young midfield in Europe.
Pedri’s form is off the scale. For the first time in the post-Messi era there was a whoop of disbelief at the Nou Camp on Sunday as a player did something no one could quite believe. It happened twice.
First when Pedri back-heel nutmegged Athletic Bilbao’s Mikel Balenziaga. And then when he wriggled clear of Dani Garcia and Inaki Williams and then pinged a 40-yard cross-field pass for Dembele to set up the third goal in the 4-0 win.
Xavi had called him ‘the best in the world’ before the game but such high praise has not affected him. After the game, the coach said Pedri reminded him of Andres Iniesta.
And beyond Pedri, Xavi has a revived Frenkie de Jong, the irrepressible 17-year-old Gavi, and the impressive Nico just three years his senior.
Xavi has called Pedri ‘the best in the world’ but such high praise has not affected him
Barcelona’s brilliant run could still unravel because of their defensive frailties but right now even that doesn’t look like happening. Pique has risen to the challenge of leading this new young side. He is playing so well the debate as to whether Luis Enrique should ask him to come out of international retirement was restarted recently.
Jordi Alba is on a phenomenal run of match-winning assists. And at the weekend when Alba was out suspended, Sergino Dest switched from right back to the left and put in one of his best performances since he joined the club.
Even if Barca win the Clasico this month and their game in hand then they will still be nine points behind leaders Real Madrid and title talk is surely one step beyond reality.
But if the season were 10 games longer it might not sound so daft. Xavi – with a little bit of help from those three top Premier League signings – has turned the ocean liner around in very little time.
Barcelona’s brilliant run could still unravel defensively but that doesn’t look like happening
This content was originally published here.