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When Xavi Hernandez was installed as Barcelona’s new manager in the first half of November, the club sat ninth in the La Liga table. Almost eight weeks on from his appointment, Barcelona are up to eighth place. That makes it sound as though Xavi has not made much of an impact so far, but it is undeniably true that the mood around the Camp Nou is much brighter these days. Barcelona are still a work in progress but their new boss has already instigated improvements.
To be clear, there are still issues to be sorted out and Barcelona are not yet capable of challenging for the La Liga title. There are likely to be more bumps in the road this season. Defensive errors continue to undermine them; Xavi’s side have kept a clean sheet in just one of his six league games at the helm. The squad is much weaker than it was even two or three years ago.
Yet there has been enough in the last two months to suggest that Barcelona are moving in the right direction under Xavi. The chief reason for renewed optimism among the fan base is the presence in the team of several talented young players. Ansu Fati and Pedri have been battling injuries but both have shown their quality when fit. The 17-year-old Gavi has displayed a maturity beyond his tender years. Ferran Jutgla and Abde Ezzalzouli have stepped up from the youth ranks more recently.
Xavi has also given Barcelona more of an on-field identity. Towards the end of Ronald Koeman’s tenure it was hard to work out what the plan was. Xavi’s side are playing with greater clarity and purpose, and the team’s competitive spirit is also higher than it was earlier this season. A top-four finish is well within Barcelona’s grasp.
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We are close to the midway point of the campaign and it still feels as if Real Mallorca’s season could go in one of two ways. They go into this fixture in 14th place, four points adrift of the top half of the table and five clear of the relegation zone. A positive run of results could lift them into the upper echelons of the division; a downturn could see them sink into the bottom three.
Simply staying up would be an achievement for a side that won promotion to La Liga last term. Mallorca got off to a fantastic start in 2021/22, taking seven points from the first nine available, but they were quickly brought back down to earth: Luis Garcia’s side won only one of their next 12 matches in the league.
Four victories in 18 games is not a great return, even for a promoted team, but Mallorca have been hard to beat. Only Athletic Bilbao have drawn more often than Garcia’s men, who have taken a solitary point on eight occasions – including three scoreless stalemates against Villarreal, Getafe and Celta Vigo.
As that trio of 0-0 ties suggests, Mallorca have struggled to put the ball in the back of the net. They are averaging under a goal per game and are second-bottom of the expected goals (xG) table, which shows they are struggling to create quality chances. Their defensive record is not much better: only the backlines of Levante, Cadiz and Alaves have been breached more often than Mallorca’s.
While Mallorca have had problems creating chances, Barcelona have found it difficult to convert them. They are second only to Real Madrid in the aforementioned expected goals table, yet whereas los Blancos have outperformed their xG through ruthless finishing, Barcelona have been let down by profligacy in and around the penalty area.
Soccer managers always stress that they would prefer their team to create chances and miss them, rather than not create any at all. Xavi no doubt subscribes to that belief too, and the feeling around the Camp Nou is that Barcelona are bound to become more clinical sooner rather than later.
They have failed to score in only one of their six matches under Xavi and have found the back of the net in both halves in two of their last three outings. Mallorca conceded four goals to Granada in their last fixture before the short winter break, which does not bode particularly well for their chances of keeping Barcelona’s attack quiet.
Mallorca will look to pack men behind the ball and disrupt their opponents’ rhythm, but Barcelona will create opportunities as long as they stay patient. Xavi’s side are improving week on week, and although they are far from perfect, Barcelona are playing some good soccer again. Back them to score in both halves on Sunday.
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|Real Mallorca vs Barcelona Information|
|Teams||Real Mallorca vs Barcelona|
|Location||Visit Mallorca Stadium, Palma de Mallorca, Spain|
|Time||Sunday, 2 January 2022, 3.00 PM EST|
|How to watch||ESPN|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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