The cash-strapped Catalans lost their talisman ahead of a trying campaign but Xavi’s return and the emergence of new stars lifted spirits
Another season has come to an end for Barcelona, and one gets the feeling that most of the Catalans’ support will be relieved to see the back of it.
While 2021-22 did not turn out to be as disastrous as feared in the opening months, when the team looked lost without newly departed Lionel Messi and crashed from defeat to defeat, there was little to celebrate at Camp Nou while arch-rivals Real Madrid completed a Liga and Champions League double.
Barcelona at least recovered enough to secure Champions League football for next season, but aside from one spectacular game against Madrid, there were few highlights to speak of in what turned out to be a tough rebuilding campaign.
But there is still room for optimism, with Xavi and the club’s young stars, in particular. leaving a positive impression amid the general sensation of disappointment.
Player of the Season
This particular title has been largely a foregone conclusion for the last decade thanks to a certain diminutive Argentine.
But with Messi out of the picture, the onus was on the rest of the Blaugrana squad to step up, and several players deserve a mention for their performances.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was behind much of the significant improvement in Barca’s play at the start of 2022, hitting 11 goals in 17 Liga games following his free transfer from Arsenal to prove that he is still a top-tier striker.
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He was ably assisted by Ousmane Dembele, who finally put injury and contract strife behind him after Christmas. Dembele stood out in particular as a creator, laying on 11 goals in just 15 Liga appearances in the second half of the season.
The winner of the title, however, produced across the year, even when Barca were at their worst: 19-year-old Pedri, who looked mature beyond his years at the heart of midfield and has a sparkling future ahead of him at Camp Nou .
Goal of the Season
Ferran Torres was one of the men, alongside Aubameyang and the newly fit Dembele, who rejuvenated Barca’s flagging season after Christmas.
The Spain international pushed hard for a move to Camp Nou from Manchester City and put in a string of impressive performances for Barca following his January transfer.
Perhaps most notably, he also converted a brilliant collective effort to put Real Madrid to the sword in the Clasico.
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The move started almost on Barca’s goal-line when Ronald Araujo pumped the ball up-field, and Frenkie de Jong kept the action alive with a smart interception.
The Dutch midfielder played off Dembele to streak through and then found Aubameyang, who bore down on goal.
Rather than go himself, though, the striker played an inch-perfect backheel into the path of Torres to finish off one of the best goals of the entire Liga campaign.
Performance of the Season
There is only one possible candidate here.
March’s 4-0 destruction of Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu was by far Barcelona’s finest display of 2021-22, all the more potent for how unexpected the result was.
Xavi’s side were on a run of three straight Liga victories when they visited their rivals, but there was little indication that the clash would be anything but an extremely tough evening for the away side.
With half an hour played, though, Aubameyang fired the Catalans into the lead, prompting the start of a demolition worthy of the coach’s playing days alongside Messi and Andres Iniesta.
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Eight minutes later, Ronald Araujo was on target to send Barca into half-time 2-0 up, and the two teams were barely back out on the pitch before Ferran Torres after picking up on Aubameyang’s slick back-heel.
Auba was on target again to put the game well and truly beyond doubt, and while the thrashing did not ultimately derail Madrid from their march to the Liga title, it bought Barca a fair measure of pride in a season which otherwise had little to offer.
Disappointment of the season
A category, sadly, with plenty of contenders. From parting with Messi on a free transfer at the start of the season, bringing an end to 20 golden years at the club, to the shambolic final days of Ronald Koeman’s reign, there were more downs than ups for the Blaugrana over the past 12 months .
Nevertheless, the result that arguably hurt the most was Barca’s timid capitulation to Eintracht Frankfurt to surrender their last hope of finishing 2021-22 with a trophy.
Victory would have been good enough to send them through to the Europa League semis, but Xavi’s men simply failed to turn up as they allowed the visitors to race into a 3-0 lead, leaving them on the brink of elimination.
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Late goals from Sergio Busquets and Memphis Depay merely extended the club’s agony, as well as anger at going out in such fashion from a competition that looked to be winnable.
The last embarrassing post-script was written from the Camp Nou stands, where thousands of Frankfurt fans had congregated and made such a racket that it felt like a home game for them.
As well as the 5,000 tickets allocated to the visitors, many more had in fact managed to buy directly from Barcelona and their fans, causing a minor scandal in the boardroom to go with their disappointment on the pitch.
All in all, a season that Barcelona will want to forget, and quickly.
It was to be expected that they would find life without Messi hard going, but the beginning of the 2021-22 was a catastrophe – after 18 games, the Catalans languished eighth in La Liga while also bombing out of the Champions League in the first round for the first time since 2000.
Koeman’s removal and the arrival of Xavi did lead to an upturn in fortunes, mostly led by Aubameyang and a promising flock of young stars, with Pedri and Gavi the most prominent among them.
If that latter duo can keep growing, and fellow youngster Ansu Fati can put his injury troubles behind him, Barca could push back towards Madrid at the top of the table.
But the distance between the giants is daunting right now, and they will have a hard time closing it next season too with the club still in a fragile economic state.