What Barcelona’s Champions League exit means for future of Xavi, Frenkie de Jong and more

After how Barcelona’s season has spiraled, it’s only right that they crashed out of the Champions League with the joint-second worst Champions League home defeat in their history, losing 4-1 to Paris Saint-Germain. This result saw the first-leg lead evaporate to fall in the semifinals 6-4 on aggregate.

So what’s next?

On one hand, credit needs to go to Xavi Hernandez for guiding a flawed squad to this stage of the Champions League, but on the other, unless there is a miraculous turnaround in La Liga, this will be Barcelona’s first season without a trophy since 2019-2020 and only their second without silverware in the last 10 seasons. 

Success is expected at Barcelona and while Xavi plans to leave the club at the end of the season, in some ways he also overachieved with the squad he was given. Entering the match without Andreas Christensen and with Sergi Roberto suspended, Pedri returned to the starting XI and the entire midfield struggled, leaving defenders with too much space to cover. Xavi, a member of his coaching staff, and Ronald Araujo all received red cards while Joao Cancelo conceded a penalty that was converted by Kylian Mbappe. 

It’s fitting that Mbappe netted a brace to send Barcelona crashing out of the Champions League before likely heading to Real Madrid where he’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue to deny Barcelona silverware over the years. To combat that, quite a lot of work needs to be done at Barca and it’s work that will be harder without receiving funds for advancing further into Champions League play.

When club president Joan Laporta speaks he makes it seem as if anything is possible for Barcelona even when it comes to Xavi’s future, but when their best hopes are on the shoulders of 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, it shows how far they have to go. They can return to the top but here are a few things that would need to happen for that to happen:

Xavi must return

This is a bit of a tough one as while Xavi announced that he would step down at the end of the season, he was then able to right the ship some in 2024, making it to the Champions League quarters and helping develop young players. Alongside Yamal, 17-year-old defender Pau Cubarsi has been a standout, but there are plenty of examples of young players who have stepped up to help lay a foundation for the future. 

If Barcelona are to compete without buying players next season, they’ll need to get the most out of everyone currently on the roster and Xavi has shown that he can get a roster to overperform as long as they stay healthy. Things such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen suffering an injury this season caused the defense to take a step back but when everyone is available, the defense is elite, which makes everyone else’s jobs easier.

Who is the go-to attacker?

Facing PSG may have answered this question with Raphinha finding the net three times during the two legs but the Brazilian hasn’t proven that he can stay healthy. Robert Lewandowski’s numbers have been fine for a 35-year-old but he has taken a step back while Joao Felix hasn’t been reliable either. This is part of why Barcelona brought in Vitor Roque early during the January transfer window instead of waiting for the summer, but he has struggled to adjust so far this season. That doesn’t mean that he won’t grow into a role in the attack for next season, but Barcelona will need to figure out who their guy will be if he isn’t the starter.

Ferran Torres can help in a pinch but still has injury issues as well. But there is a serious need to establish depth and quickly. 

Keep Frenkie de Jong

When you need to raise funds few players are deemed to be untouchable but Frenkie de Jong should be one of them even if Manchester United continue to be linked to the Dutch midfielder. Like many others, he has suffered injuries this season, but when he’s on the pitch, this Barcelona team functions better as a whole. Able to dribble out of tight spaces while also keeping his balance, de Jong is a special player who along with Perdi and Gavi gives Barcelona a good base to build on.

Upgrades are needed for guys like Oriol Romeu and other aging members of the squad but they’ll only be harder to do if de Jong departs. Seven members of the squad are 31 or older while six are younger than 20 showing how much Barcelona have been operating in the extremes, but if the core can be augmented, this team may not win La Liga, but they shouldn’t have to spend another year without silverware either.

It’s a long road out of their financial troubles especially without economic levers to ease the pain but La Masia has proven that it can produce top talent and Yamal just may be a generational talent to build around. It’s currently dark for Barcelona and it will be a long road back to the top, but it’s possible if Xavi stays to offer a stable bridge to whoever their next manager is. 

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