BARCELONA won their 27th La Liga title and first for four years after a 4-2 win at city rivals Espanyol yesterday crowned a remarkable domestic campaign built around a rock-solid defence, a huge change from the club’s traditional style of play.
Barca has a history of success with teams playing an attractive brand of attacking football but this season they have had to adapt to a different reality and manager Xavi Hernandez has cast aside tradition to focus on relentless defence.
The change in mentality may not have sat entirely comfortably with Xavi who said Barca’s style was “non-negotiable” when he was appointed coach in November 2021.
He often sounded frustrated yet resigned in interviews, trying to defend his team even after victories, sounding like he needed to explain that he had to prioritise his defence due to the urgency of getting the club back to winning ways.
A former Barca player himself, Xavi was a symbol of their attacking style as a flamboyant midfielder who won every major title with the club and with Spain.
“We have not betrayed any game model,” Xavi said after his side earned a gutsy 1-0 win at Real’s Santiago Bernabeu in March with an outstanding defensive performance against their bitter rivals who enjoyed 65 per cent of possession but could not break Barcelona down.
This season Barcelona have won 27 of their 34 games and although they are the second highest scorers in the division with 64 goals and boast the leading marksman in Robert Lewandowski, the foundation of their success has been at the other end of the pitch.
They have conceded 13 goals in the league, by far the best defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues. At home, their defensive numbers are even more impressive with only two goals conceded, one from a penalty and the other an own goal.