When Xavi took over Barcelona two years ago the club’s supporters imagined the sort of whirlwind pass and move football that he had been famous for as a player.
They didn’t see it in his first season but with 10 1-0 wins they finished top of the league and so patience was shown.
Now they are fourth having shipped four against the team with the eighth-smallest wage bill in the division and much worse than that – their victors were playing exactly the brand of football previously associated with Barcelona.
Michel’s Girona swept Xavi’s team away on a dizzying tide of fast-flowing football. It was tiki-taka on double-speed at times and as Barca fans filed out of the Lluis Companys Stadium, many of them were thinking the same thing – maybe their manager should be ours.
In his midnight post-match media conference Xavi’s excuses were standing up about as well as his defence had. ‘We had 30 or 31 shots’ he said with an argument that made it sound as if his team had dominated but just been unable to convert chances.
Pressure has increased on Xavi after the Barcelona boss saw his side beaten 4-2 by Girona
Surprise league leaders Girona are playing the brand of football associated with Barcelona
Barcelona fans will wonder why Girona boss Michel is not in charge of the Catalan giants
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The reality was that many of those shots were tame and from distance and if they were an indication of anything, it was that Barcelona had lacked ideas when they reached the final third.
The Barcelona coach then said that Barca were a ‘team under construction’. That was another own goal from Xavi because he had taken over in November 2021 and Michel had started coaching Girona just three months before – and with far fewer resources at his disposal, despite benefiting from City Group owned Brazilian winger Savinho. He was by no means the star last night and the fact that 12 different players have now scored for Girona is more testament to how well their manager has them playing.
Xavi’s supporters point to Barcelona not having the players to produce anything better. One of his former Spain team-mates David Albelda argued that Barcelona have players who shouldn’t be playing for the club. But again the comparison with Michel is not favourable.
On Sunday night Girona had a centre-back, Daley Blind, who Bayern Munich and Manchester United didn’t want. Alongside him were Eric Garcia, who Barcelona didn’t want, and David Lopez who Espanyol didn’t want. At left-back they had Miguel Gutierrez who Real Madrid didn’t want, and in midfield Ivan Martin, who Villarreal didn’t want. Half this team are cast-offs and yet they are top of the table having outscored everyone – 38 goals, which is four more than Real Madrid and eight more than Barcelona.
And if Xavi is disappointing because it turns out he is not the second coming of Pep Guardiola, increasingly there are elements of Michel’s football that do remind everyone of Guardiola’s projects at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.
Man of the match was Gutierrez who starts the game at left-back but rarely stays there when his team have the ball. Guardiola did it with Philip Lahm at Bayern Munich and with Joao Cancelo among others at Manchester City.
Gutierrez gives Girona a numerical superiority in the middle of the pitch and when it draws the rivals winger infield it leaves the team’s own winger Savinho and Viktor Tsygankov with one-on-ones with rival full-backs. Xavi has tried to do it with Cancelo, on loan from City, but it has not been a sustained success.
Xavi pointed to a lack of efficiency in both penalty areas and it was true that Robert Lewandowski had missed late free-header to make it 3-3 before Girona made it 4-2. And it was also true that individual errors from Jules Kounde and Ronald Araujo had cost Barcelona on the goals.
But what Barcelona supporters are seeing is that there is still no big idea beyond the ebb and flow of whether one player does something brilliant or makes a big mistake.
Michel is achieving success at Girona with a team consisting of cast-offs like Daley Blind
Michel’s football reminds people of Pep Guardiola’s projects while Xavi is relying on individuals
Barcelona supporters will be looking enviously towards Michel as Girona continue to impress
In stark contrast – there is a big idea at Girona and Michel has his players so well schooled in it, that they can recite it even under the pressure of the last few minutes of a game away at Barcelona.
When Ilkay Gundogan scored last night to make it 2-3 on 92 minutes it was expected that Girona would cling on. Instead they scored the fourth. They only know one way to play – go for the next goal.
It’s been one of Guardiola’s mantras for years and it seems to have rubbed off on Michel who has had several priceless confabs with the City coach across the last two years.
Xavi spent three years playing for Guardiola, having previously been his team-mate, but the osmosis to date doesn’t seem to have been anywhere near as effective. No wonder Barcelona supporters are starting to look enviously towards the young coach tearing it up just 70 miles up the coast.