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Five issues to address for Barcelona’s new coach

Barcelona was moving closer to appointing Xavi Hernandez on Thursday after the club sacked Ronald Koeman as coach.

Barcelona players pose before the Spanish League football match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 24, 2021. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Barcelona was moving closer to appointing Xavi Hernandez on Thursday after the club sacked Ronald Koeman as coach.

A 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday left Barca ninth in La Liga, six points off the top four after winning only two of their last seven league games.

Koeman’s dismissal was confirmed almost three hours after full-time, with club president Joan Laporta reportedly flying to Qatar on Thursday morning to finalise an agreement with Xavi.

Xavi, Barcelona’s legendary former midfielder who won eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues with them as a player, left in 2015 for Al Sadd, where he has been coach since 2019.

Here, AFP Sport takes a look at five issues to address at the Camp Nou:

Cut the gap on the top four
Barcelona’s perilous financial situation means they simply cannot afford not to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

The club are 1.35 billion euros ($1.57bn) in debt and any attempt to rebuild both financially and on the pitch will depend on playing in Europe’s elite competition next season.

The situation is salvageable, with the gap only six points between Barca in ninth and Real Sociedad in fourth, but there can be no room for complacency given the form of a number of teams challenging at the top so far this season.

Sneak into Champions League last 16
A 1-0 victory at home to Dynamo Kiev last week at least revived Barcelona’s hopes of reaching the last 16 after they began the group stage with consecutive 3-0 losses to Bayern Munich and Benfica.

But there is work still to do, with trips to Kiev and Bayern still to come, either side of a home game against Benfica.

Escaping the group after such a poor start under Koeman would give the new coach an early injection of credibility while the club would avoid missing out on 9.6 million euros in UEFA prize money for making the knock-out stage.

Improve the playing style
One of the biggest criticisms of Koeman centred around his playing style, with too many performances lacking either creativity or a clear sense of a plan.

Barcelona may not have the talent anymore of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi but there is still room for improvement on recent performances.

Combining the club’s traditions of possession football with a modern, counter-pressing game would bring the fans back onside and give the players belief that a long-term vision was at least in place.

Blood the youngsters
One of Koeman’s biggest achievements was promoting a talented group of youngsters and the challenge now will be to make of the most of their potential.

Ansu Fati and Pedri are the great hopes for the future but the likes of Ronald Araujo, Sergino Dest, Gavi, Nico Gonzalez and Alex Balde have also shown a lot of promise and need nurturing.

If they can thrive alongside more experienced players like Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, whose futures must also be managed, Barca can have an exciting team for the future.

Move on from Messi
Messi’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain in August has left a gigantic hole at Barcelona, his absence exposing the cracks the Argentinian covered for so long.

They have struggled for goals this season, with Memphis Depay inconsistent and Luuk de Jong out of his depth, but there has also been a lack of belief.

Koeman constantly asked for realistic expectations but his downbeat assessment bordered on defeatist at times.

Barca may not be able to afford a star signing like Kylian Mbappe to fill the void but for now, the players just appear in need of some confidence.