Xavi believes Barcelona's 3-1 win over Villarreal will give his players a morale boost despite acknowledging their performance did not warrant all three points.

The former Barca midfielder oversaw a 1-0 win over Espanyol last weekend after taking over the reins from Ronald Koeman, but it looked like he would be denied another victory on Saturday when Samuel Chukwueze cancelled out Frenkie de Jong's opener.

Memphis Depay came to Barca's rescue, though, with a vital goal in the 88th minute, before Philippe Coutinho added a third from the penalty spot in stoppage time.

Not only was it Barca's first away win in LaLiga this season, it was also the first time they have won back-to-back games in the competition this term.

The win over Espanyol was followed by a 0-0 draw with Benfica in the Champions League in midweek, and Xavi says the victory at La Ceramica was comfortably the worst his side has played across his first three games in charge.

"It was very even, Villarreal is a great team," he told a media conference. "Of the three games that I have played, it is the one that we have dominated the least and the one that we least deserved to win.

"Today could have ended up as a draw and instead we are leaving with a victory. That is tremendous and gives us a lot of morale.

"It is a spectacular victory that gives us a lot of morale to continue growing. This victory gives us life.

"That game was the minimum required. Belief, attitude, respect for the badge, and hard work; they are the foundations of a team. Today was a victory of team spirit. When we do not play well, we also have to win. We are Barca."

 

Both sides had cause to be frustrated with the officials during a chaotic opening 10 minutes. 

Villarreal midfielder Dani Parejo was fortunate to escape a red card for a shocking early challenge on Sergio Busquets, while Gerard Pique went unpunished for a blatant handball in the penalty area soon after. 

Xavi refused to criticise the officials, though, adding: "In the end, I will not talk about the referees. It is a very difficult job and I will not put myself into it.

"In the end, it is the referee who decides. One day he can help you and another day harm you. It is difficult to be a referee."

Jordi Alba was replaced by Oscar Mingueza in the 71st minute after sustaining an injury, with Xavi revealing the full-back fought through the pain barrier to continue. 

"At half-time it looked like he could not continue, but he has made a brutal effort to carry on," the Barca boss said. "He is an example; he is one of the captains, and he is pushing us forward. Jordi has made an effort until he couldn't take any more."

Xavi made it back-to-back LaLiga wins following his appointment as Barcelona head coach as late goals from Memphis Depay and Philippe Coutinho secured a 3-1 win over Villarreal.

The former Barca midfielder oversaw a 1-0 win over Espanyol last weekend after taking over the reins from Ronald Koeman, but it looked like he would be denied another three points at Estadio de la Ceramica when Samuel Chukwueze cancelled out Frenkie de Jong's opener.

Depay had other ideas, though, stroking home with two minutes remaining to spark jubilant celebrations from Xavi on the Barca bench, before Coutinho added a third from the penalty spot in stoppage time.

The result puts seventh-placed Barca seven points behind leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand, while Villarreal stay 12th.

Xavi wants Ousmane Dembele to stay at Barcelona amid rumours of interest from Newcastle United.

The Premier League side, bankrolled after their takeover by a Saudi Arabia-led consortium, are expected to spend heavily during the January transfer window.

Barca winger Dembele is said to be a target, with a report in Sport on Friday suggesting the player's agent, Moussa Sissoko, is prepared to listen to offers as he is not happy with the Catalans' new contract offer.

The France international, a €105million signing from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, has made only two Champions League appearances this season due to injury problems but is in the squad for Saturday's LaLiga game at Villarreal.

Dembele's time in Spain has been blighted by fitness problems, but he remains a dangerous player when available. Since his arrival, Dembele has managed 30 goals and 20 assists in 120 games, a total bettered by only four players, while his average of 1.9 chances created per 90 minutes is second only to Lionel Messi in that time among players to make more than 14 appearances.

Head coach Xavi has made it clear that Dembele is firmly in his plans.

 

"I had an individual chat with him," Xavi said on Friday. "I made it clear to him how important he was for not only me this season, but for the future.

"It depends on him. Hopefully, he can renew because he's a player capable of making a difference in the next few years."

Xavi added on rumours suggesting Barca could also cash in on some midfield players: "We need them. They're players who are playing and none of them is for sale at all."

Barca beat Espanyol 1-0 in Xavi's first match in charge before a goalless draw with Benfica in the Champions League this week.

Their first away game under the former midfielder pits them against a side who have failed to win any of their previous 24 league matches with the Blaugrana.

Xavi has been impressed with his players' application but admits taking their chances is a concern, Barca having posted figures of 1.56 and 1.39 expected goals against Espanyol and Benfica without scoring from open play.

"I'm really happy with the team's reaction. We win a lot of duels, we're pressing well. I think in attack we have to be more daring," he said.

"We have players who are very young on the inside and have to dare more. I went through it at that age. There's a goal – I can see it in training.

"In general I'm quite satisfied with what I see on the pitch. We want to subdue the opposition and I think we're succeeding, but we have to score to win games."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta is "convinced" the LaLiga giants will reach the Champions League last 16 by beating Bayern Munich next month.

Barca's Champions League hopes hang in the balance following Tuesday's goalless draw at home to Benfica.

Xavi's Barca remain second in Group E and two points ahead of their Portuguese counterparts but face runaway leaders Bayern in two weeks' time with their fate yet to be decided.

Barca last failed to advance beyond the group stage in 2000-01, when they finished behind Milan and Leeds United.

However, Laporta is confident Barca can seal progress to the knockout phase heading into the December 8 showdown in Munich.

"Beating Bayern is something that can be achieved," Laporta said to Diario AS, with Barca looking to bounce back from the 3-0 defeat in the reverse fixture.

"There is going to be a miracle, I am convinced that we are going to win.

"Xavi is very motivated and very strong. I hope everything goes well for us.

"I think that at the moment Xavi's arrival has generated a little respect from our opponents. They know we can do it again."

The stalemate against Benfica was Barca's 133rd home game in the Champions League, and just the eighth to end as a goalless draw.

Xavi became the 13th consecutive head coach to avoid defeat in his first Champions League game in charge of Barcelona (W11 D2), with Louis van Gaal in 1997-98 being the last to lose his first game (3-2 against Newcastle United).

Barca have only scored two goals in five Champions League games this season; only Malmo (0.2), Dynamo Kyiv (0.2) and Shakhtar Donetsk (0.25) have a lower goals-per-game ratio than the Catalan side (0.4) in the competition this term.

Xavi has issued a rallying cry to Barcelona as their Champions League hopes hang in the balance following Tuesday's 0-0 draw with Benfica.

The Blaugrana missed the opportunity to seal their progress to the knockout stages of the competition, despite a dominant performance at Camp Nou.

Although Xavi became the 13th consecutive manager to avoid defeat in his first Champions League game in charge of Barca, his side were unable to break down a stubborn Benfica.

The goalless stalemate was only the eighth that Barcelona have recorded in 133 home matches in this competition, while they have mustered just two goals from their opening five games.

They remain second in Group E and two points ahead of their Portuguese counterparts, but face runaway leaders Bayern Munich in two weeks' time with their fate yet to be decided.

Xavi insists his side will travel to Germany with a positive mentality.

"We were far superior to Benfica. If we had scored, we would be talking about a good match," the Barca head coach said.

"We take a point that means very little. We have one day left, and we have to go to Germany to win.

"We have one goal in two games [since I took over] and we have scored it from a penalty. It is clear that we have to be more effective.

"You have to go to Munich to win; we are Barca."

Barca did have the ball in the net through Ronald Araujo in the 83rd minute, but the defender's volley was ruled out for offside.

The Uruguay international was pleased with the mentality demonstrated by the hosts, but admitted the result left a bitter taste in his mouth.

"We missed the goal, which was the golden key to qualify," Araujo said. "The attitude was very good, but they were very tight in defence.

"There is a bitter taste because we wanted to win the three points here, in front of our people, but we have to win now in Munich."

Liverpool playmaker Thiago Alcantara has not considered a return to Barcelona, insisting he is "100 per cent' happy with his choice to move to Anfield.

Thiago has not had it easy with injuries since his transfer to Liverpool from Bayern Munich in 2020.

The Spain international contracted COVID-19 shortly after his arrival, before suffering an injury due to a tackle from Everton's Richarlison during his full debut in October last year.

He played just 24 league games last season, starting 20 of them, scoring once.

More niggling injury issues have restricted the 30-year-old to eight appearances across all competitions so far this term. However, he does seem to be rediscovering something close to his best form, at least from a creative standpoint.

Per 90 minutes played, Thiago creates on average 2.2 chances, tied with Mohamed Salah for third place in Liverpool's squad behind Trent Alexander-Arnold (3.2) and Konstantinos Tsimikas (2.7), while 305 of his 345 attempted passes have found a team-mate (an 88.4 per cent accuracy).

Following Xavi taking over from Ronald Koeman at Barca, however, there had been reports linking Thiago with a return to his former club, with the Blaugrana's new coach reportedly keen to reunite with his old team-mate.

Thiago, though, says he is perfectly happy at Anfield.

"As always, I am a guy who plays football," he told a news conference ahead of Liverpool's Champions League meeting with Porto on Wednesday.

"I am not focused on the rumours, I am focused on the duty I have with my team, the years that I have on the contract and I just want to know about this new adventure that I have here in the Premier League, trying to win all the trophies that I can with this team."

"One hundred per cent I made the right choice, the right move," he added when asked if he had any doubts over his move to the Premier League due to the amount of injuries he has sustained.

"The injuries stop the frequency to play, and to know how the team performs on the pitch.

"You can watch football and all the time it's awesome but putting it into practice is even better. It's a pity football has [injuries] but it's part of football, part of life, when we are fit we have to put in as high performances as we can.

"I think the first year was very interrupted because of the COVID situation, injury. I had a quick adaptation. We struggled last season, for many reasons.

"This year, you know much better your team-mates, the runs that they make, the way they prefer to receive the ball, the way they defend, how they attack. To me the most important thing is to try to win in the way we want to win."

Thiago has collected four LaLiga titles, seven Bundesliga crowns and three Champions League winners' medals across a glittering career, working under some of Europe's top coaches, including Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Hansi Flick and, now, Jurgen Klopp.

"First of all, I had the luck to play with great players, great teams. I remember the time with Pep was different to Ancelotti and time with Tito [Vilanova] was different to Pep also," he said when asked to compare playing under Guardiola and Klopp. 

"With these two coaches [Guardiola and Klopp] we can see, they both have the same charisma. Also, they have the group in their hands, they make them perform better. The similarities are there. 

"The difference is how the teams play. One is much more possession. It's great both are doing what they want in the greatest way football can bring."

Lionel Messi predicts "Barcelona will grow with Xavi" because of his knowledge of football and the club. 

Former midfielder Xavi was this month appointed as Barca's head coach following the dismissal of Ronald Koeman. 

A penalty from Memphis Depay gave the Catalan giants a 1-0 victory over Espanyol in his first game at the helm last weekend. 

The Blaugrana had 11 shots in the first half at Camp Nou – the most they have had in the opening 45 minutes of any game this season – but had also faced 12 by the final whistle, the most in a Barca boss' opening LaLiga game in charge since Frank Rijkaard (17) in August 2002. 

A potentially pivotal Champions League clash with Benfica is next up on Tuesday, and Messi believes his former team-mate Xavi has what it takes to get the Catalan giants back on track. 

"Barcelona will grow with Xavi. He is a coach who knows a lot and knows the club perfectly," Messi told Marca. 

Messi will be hoping to get his hands on the Champions League trophy this season, having linked up with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe at Paris Saint-Germain. 

While the Argentina captain acknowledged they are among the favourites for European success, he feels Mauricio Pochettino's team have plenty of work to do to reach the required level. 

"Everyone says that we are the favourites and I will not deny that we are one of the candidates because of our name, but we still need things to be a really strong team," he said. 

PSG will book their place in the Champions League round of 16 if they beat Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.

Messi has scored seven goals in as many Champions League appearances against City, who lost the reverse fixture 2-0 back in September.

Xavi believes Pedri was a deserved winner of the 2021 Golden Boy award but will not rush the Barcelona midfielder back into action. 

Spain international Pedri was a landslide victor in the voting for Europe's best player aged under 21 – his 199-point advantage over runner-up Jude Bellingham making it a record-breaking success. 

The 18-year-old featured in more games in all competitions (52) for Barcelona last season than any other player, accumulating four goals and six assists in the process. 

He then became the youngest player to represent Spain at a major tournament during Euro 2020, finishing the competition with more passes completed in the final third (177) than any other player. 

Pedri followed that up by travelling to Tokyo for the Olympic Games and helping his country win a silver medal. 

The heavy schedule may well have taken its toll on him, with a thigh issue ruling him out since September and limiting him to just four appearances this term. 

Pedri signed a new contract until 2026 in October but reportedly suffered a second setback in his recovery from injury and could be facing another month out. 

Xavi was pleased for Pedri to have something to celebrate during a tough time and is keen to welcome him back into the fold, but acknowledged the club cannot rush him. 

"I'm happy for him because he deserves it [the Golden Boy award]. He has made a difference and is an extraordinary player," said Xavi. 

"It's an important, prestigious award. And I'm glad for him because he's having a difficult time. 

"We are going to try to get him back as soon as possible because he is a key player, a difference-maker. I don't have a specific date, but the important thing is he does not relapse again, plays calmy and recovers 100 per cent." 

Xavi has challenged his Barcelona side to qualify for the Champions League round of 16 in style when they face Benfica on Tuesday.

Benfica will be unable to catch Barca if the Catalan giants secure all three points in their penultimate Group E game at Camp Nou.

The Blaugrana managed a 1-0 derby win over Espanyol in Xavi's first game in charge on Saturday after the club great replaced Ronald Koeman as head coach.

Former Spain star Xavi wants Barca to put on a show against a Benfica side that beat them 3-0 in September and could move into second place behind Bayern Munich with another victory.

Xavi said in a press conference on Monday: "I envision a victory tomorrow. Why should I think otherwise? I prepare for that, so that [the players] are doing well and see that it is an opportunity to get into the second round.

"I am positive, and it seems an opportunity to me. I envision winning, scoring goals. No one is going to take away that hope. I would like a great team game, of course, but we are not here to give anything away.

"The most important thing is how. The objective is to win. Winning in any way will be welcome, but it is [about] how things are done, too."

Xavi has taken on a rebuilding job at the cash-strapped club following Koeman's departure, but the 41-year-old has high expectations.

"I am very happy," he said: "I feel proud and privileged. I think they are the best in the world, but they must prove it. We have to aim for excellence.

"Regardless of the system, the approach is the same. I try to give the team a winning mentality, personality."

Xavi revealed Ousmane Dembele could return from a hamstring injury, but Barca will not take any risks with the France forward.

Sergio Busquets, Nico Gonzalez and Oscar Mingueza were substituted in the win over Espanyol, but Xavi says all three should be fit to face Benfica.

He said: "The players we had to substitute on Saturday – Mingueza, Busquets and Nico – are fine. We'll see this evening and tomorrow, but I don't see any reason why they can't play on Tuesday.

"Regarding those with injuries – Dembele, Sergi Roberto, and [Sergino] Dest – it depends on how they feel. We don't want players getting injured."

Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets admitted the embattled LaLiga giants needed to beat Espanyol after the Xavi era opened with a 1-0 victory in Saturday's derby.

Xavi's first match in charge resulted in three points against city rivals Espanyol at Camp Nou, where Memphis Depay's 48th-minute penalty settled the contest.

Barca have struggled this season, leading to the sacking of Ronald Koeman and prompting the return of club great Xavi, who had been in charge of Qatari outfit Al-Sadd.

Reflecting on the result, which saw Barca move within eight points of top spot before Real Madrid's fixture at Granada on Sunday, Busquets welcomed the win.

"We needed this victory for the team to continue to grow and regain our confidence. We have a new coach, a new philosophy and we will find a way up," Busquets said.

"I think generally we played well. I think the scoreline is a bit tight. They had some great chances, any team can cause you problems but we needed the win."

 

Barca have not lost any of their last 23 matches against Espanyol in LaLiga (W18 D5), keeping 17 clean sheets in those games, their longest unbeaten streak against the Periquitos in the competition.

At home, Barca have won their last 12 meetings against Espanyol in LaLiga, after winning just one of their previous five (D3 L1), since a 1-2 defeat in February 2009, in a match that featured Gerard Pique, Busquets and Xavi in the Blaugrana side.

"We need to believe, to regain confidence, little by little we will get better, with new ideas, a new philosophy, and we will find a way up," Busquets added.

"Right now we have a group of youngsters helping us. It's really important to have this young blood, especially right now because of the financial situation and we can't make many signings."

Depay has won three penalties in LaLiga this season, becoming the Barcelona player with the most penalties earned in a single season in the competition since Luis Suarez in 2018-19 (also three). Since 2005-06, only Neymar has won more in the same campaign in LaLiga for Barcelona (eight).

Barca's Depay has scored in each of his last three games in LaLiga (three goals), his best run in the top five European leagues since March-April 2018 (six games for Lyon – seven goals).

Barcelona head coach Xavi has denied reports that striker Sergio Aguero has been forced to retire.

Rumours emerged on Saturday that the Argentina international will hold a news conference next week to confirm he will not resume his playing career.

Aguero has not played a game since the 1-1 draw with Deportivo Alaves at Camp Nou on October 30, during which he was substituted after feeling dizzy and suffering apparent discomfort in his chest.

Barca later confirmed he would be unavailable for three months while doctors monitored a suspected cardiovascular problem. The 33-year-old tweeted on November 12 to insist he was "always positive" amid suggestions he would not be able to continue playing.

Xavi, who oversaw a 1-0 win over Espanyol in his first match in charge, insisted it was not true that Aguero's retirement was confirmed.

"What's come out isn't true," he told reporters. "I spoke with him, he's calm and happy. I asked him to come back when he was feeling okay."

 

Memphis Depay's penalty sealed Barca's victory over their city rivals, although they rode their luck in the closing stages as Raul de Tomas twice hit the post and Landry Dimata headed a glorious chance for an equaliser wide.

"I'm very happy with the three points and the effort of the players," said Xavi. "We're not in the best of spirits and Espanyol created a lot of problems for us. And we deserved the luck with the posts.

"I'm happy, and I think it was a deserved victory. What couldn't fail, which was the attitude, didn't fail."

The result moved Barca to within eight points of LaLiga leaders Sevilla, who earlier drew with Alaves, after 13 LaLiga matches.

While a title shot appears unlikely at this stage, Xavi – an eight-time league champion in a glittering playing career with the club – saw no reason to discount a challenge for the trophy.

"We're far away but there are matches left. I'm optimistic and why can't we fight for the title?" he said.

Xavi enjoyed a winning start as Barcelona head coach as they claimed a 1-0 derby win over Espanyol at Camp Nou.

Appointed as Ronald Koeman's successor and tasked with restoring both style and results to Barca, the former midfielder would not have wanted to countenance the end of a 22-match unbeaten run against their city rivals.

The Blaugrana were profligate with their chances, though, and it took a controversial Memphis Depay penalty to secure victory as Espanyol missed out on the chance to move three points clear of Barca in the table.

Barca had 77 per cent of the possession in the first 15 minutes, Depay and Ilias Akhomach leading a dangerous-looking attack in front of a buoyant crowd of more than 74,000.

However, Espanyol proved a difficult defence to breach and the visitors came closest to snatching the lead, Raul de Tomas' shot deflecting just over Marc-Andre ter Stegen's crossbar.

Three minutes after half-time, Leandro Cabrera was penalised for a challenge on Depay – despite appearing to make contact with the ball – and the Netherlands international swept home the spot-kick.

Barca could not build on their lead, though, and De Tomas came within inches of an equaliser when his free-kick clipped the outside of the left-hand post.

Landry Dimata should have snatched a point, but he could only nod wide of Ter Stegen's goal from six yards out, and De Tomas was again denied by the woodwork from another unmarked header.

 

What does it mean? Encouraging start for Xavi's new era

This was a slender victory that only moved Barca to within eight points of league leaders Sevilla, so there are few reasons to become too excited.

However, the signs of Xavi's influence were clear: the strong man-to-man pressing, the possession-based play and the commitment to attack were all obvious, even if the end product was not always the best.

This was an encouraging start to life for the new coach.

Xavi making his mark

There were eight graduates from the La Masia academy in the starting line-up and they seemed determined to carry out Xavi's instructions to the letter.

Barca had 11 shots in the first half, their most in a LaLiga match this season, and enjoyed 70 per cent of the ball before the break.

Espanyol pay for slow start

Espanyol were on a run of three wins in six games, as many as in their previous 25, and you would have thought the chance to ruin Xavi's day would have been a huge incentive.

As it was, they only truly threatened in the final 15 minutes and mustered just two shots on target.

What's next?

Xavi gets his first taste of Champions League action as a coach on Tuesday, when Barca host Benfica.

It had long felt inevitable that Xavi would return to Barcelona at some stage and the time has finally come.

The former midfielder will take charge of his first match in Saturday's derby clash with Espanyol after replacing Ronald Koeman during the international break, having embraced both a financial and sporting crisis at Camp Nou that sees the team ninth in LaLiga and more than €1.2billion in debt.

Given his pedigree as a player for the club, where he won 25 major trophies, and the fact he delivered three cups and a Qatar Stars League title during his time in charge of Al Sadd, you would be forgiven for thinking Xavi could have chosen to bide his time and wait for a more opportune moment to take the job.

Yet here we are, with another of Europe's grandest sides appointing a club legend. It's a move that often resonates well with a disillusioned fan base, but recent history tells us a star playing career often counts for little when it comes to life in the dugout at the elite end of football.

There are a fair few examples of ex-players heading back to their old clubs in the past few years – and to different levels of success...

Mikel Arteta (Arsenal): Jury's out

When Arsenal lost their first three league games of the season without scoring a goal, it looked like the Arteta experiment might have run its course.

Now on a nine-game unbeaten run in all competitions, buoyed by a derby defeat of Tottenham and a manager of the month award for September, it's beginning to look as though the former captain might just have got things on track at Emirates Stadium.

Winning the FA Cup last year was also a big feather in Arteta's cap, but there's still a sense that the next bad result is just around the corner. After all, he lost 20 of his first 60 league games in charge; it took Arsene Wenger 116 matches to reach that number.

Ronald Koeman (Barcelona): Failure

There is no question Koeman stepped into the breach at Barca at a terrible time, with an institutional crisis ongoing and the team having lost 8-2 to Bayern Munich in Quique Setien's final game in charge. He was chosen for his estimable record as a player at the club, and he did at least deliver Copa del Rey success last term.

Yet as soon as new president Joan Laporta admitted before this season that he was basically only keeping Koeman because there wasn't another option, the writing was on the wall.

Uninspiring football and a troubling run of results that culminated in a first loss to Rayo Vallecano since 2002 forced Laporta into action – he sacked Koeman on the flight home, if reports are to be believed. In the end, his contribution as a player offered little protection.

 

Niko Kovac (Bayern Munich): Short-term success

Kovac took over from Jupp Heynckes before the start of the 2018-19 season, becoming only the fourth former Bayern Munich player to become head coach (after Soren Lerby, Franz Beckenbauer and Jurgen Klinsmann).

Trophies were not a problem: Kovac won the DFL-Supercup 5-0 against old club Eintracht Frankfurt in his first match in charge, and the Bundesliga title and DFB-Pokal followed. Nobody at Bayern had ever won the double as both player and coach before.

It all turned a bit sour in 2019-20, though. Bayern won just five of their opening 10 league games and were thrashed 5-1 by Frankfurt in November, at which point Kovac and the club agreed the time was right to part ways.

Frank Lampard (Chelsea): Failure

Chelsea's record goalscorer only had one season of experience at Championship side Derby County before being entrusted with the big job at Stamford Bridge.

Losing 4-0 to Manchester United in his first game wasn't exactly a strong start, but Lampard did guide the Blues to fourth in the Premier League and an FA Cup final, all while navigating the difficulties of a transfer ban.

However, after a squad investment of close to £250million before 2020-21, Chelsea's progress stalled and a run of two wins in eight league games saw Lampard replaced by Thomas Tuchel. His points-per-game average of 1.67 was the fourth lowest of any permanent Chelsea manager in the Premier League era.

Andrea Pirlo (Juventus): Failure

Compared with Pirlo, Lampard was a seasoned veteran in managerial terms. Juventus handed the top job to their former star midfielder when his only coaching experience was nine days of looking after the Under-23s.

Pirlo's swaggering style as a player did not translate itself to the dugout: Juve lacked cohesion and creativity and were embarrassed when 10-man Porto knocked them out of the last 16 of the Champions League, a result that did more damage to Pirlo's position than any other.

The former Italy man delivered Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia success, and managed to drag Juve back to a fourth-placed finish on the final day of the season, but Inter had already marched to the title by then. In the end, Pirlo lasted less than a year.

 

Mauricio Pochettino (Paris Saint-Germain): Slow progress

Pochettino is a little different to the others on our list given his coaching experience covered Espanyol, Southampton and a memorable five years at Tottenham before he went to PSG, the club where he spent two seasons as a player.

The 49-year-old has won renown for getting his teams to play high-tempo, exciting football, but this has yet to be consistently evident in Ligue 1 even if results are mostly going his way.

Ten wins from 12 games have them comfortably top of Ligue 1, while wins over Manchester City and RB Leipzig stand them in good stead in the Champions League, but it feels like PSG are too often being rescued from mediocre performances by a moment of inspiration from a star player – and that's rarely been the Pochettino way.

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester United): Who knows?

Manchester United have become one of the most singularly baffling football teams in the world under Solskjaer, the man who won six Premier League titles as a player and scored arguably their most famous goal: the winner in the 1999 Champions League final that secured the treble.

Hired as an interim coach in December 2018 to repair the damage of Jose Mourinho's final months, Solskjaer rebuilt United's morale through sheer goodwill and a heady dose of nostalgia, both of which have kept him in the job ever since.

They finished second in the Premier League last term but lost the Europa League final, and seem to have gone backwards in 2021-22, with that 5-0 hammering by Liverpool almost sounding the death knell for Solskjaer. However, the talents at his disposal – not least Cristiano Ronaldo – seem to do just enough to keep Ole at the wheel on a weekly basis.

 

Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid): Resounding success... but walked away (twice)

Many of these clubs hoped to discover the next Pep Guardiola: the famous ex-player who could turn his first senior coaching job into something not just successful, but era-defining, unforgettable. Zidane at Real Madrid is the closest we have seen.

After spells as assistant to Carlo Ancelotti and coach of the Castilla, Zidane replaced the unpopular Rafael Benitez in January 2016 and led them to Champions League glory. He did the same for the next two seasons as Madrid became the first side in the tournament's modern era to win successive trophies.

Zidane also won two LaLiga titles: in 2016-17, in which he oversaw a club-record 40 games unbeaten in all competitions, and in 2019-20, when he had returned to club after walking away in May 2018. He left again at the end of 2020-21, the only season in which he did not win a trophy.

 

Barcelona have accelerated a shake-up at Camp Nou by allowing technical secretary Ramon Planes to leave the club.

Planes, who was recently linked with a switch to Newcastle United, heads out of Barcelona within a fortnight of Xavi arriving as head coach.

He had a contract running through to the end of this season but will depart with immediate effect, having requested to be freed from his deal.

Barcelona said in a statement: "FC Barcelona and Ramon Planes have reached an agreement to terminate the contract that bound both parties until 30 June 2022, at the request of the man who had until now been the club's technical secretary.

"The club wishes to publicly express its gratitude to Ramon Planes for his commitment, professionalism and contributions throughout this last two years, and wishes him the best of luck and every success in the future."

Spanish sports daily Marca last week claimed there had already been contact between Planes and Newcastle, who are newly wealthy after a takeover by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund but are also fighting a Premier League relegation battle.

Newcastle have appointed Eddie Howe as their new head coach but are seeking reinforcements to their staff elsewhere, and recruiting a man who has spent three and a half years at Barcelona would be seen as a coup, despite the LaLiga team having struggled in recent times.

Planes joined from Getafe in 2018 and was initially assistant technical secretary to Eric Abidal before taking on the lead role in August 2020.

His exit continues the process of overhauling Barcelona's football staff since Joan Laporta was elected as president in March.

The team sit ninth in LaLiga after winning just four of their opening 12 games, managing 19 goals so far from an expected goals (xG) tally of 21.03. Expected goals totals are judged by quality of chances.

Since the 2010-11 season, the point from which Opta has such records available, Barcelona have always exceeded their xG across a LaLiga season. Last term, before Lionel Messi's exit, they scored 85 goals from an xG score of 73.96.

Patience in former head coach Ronald Koeman ran out in October, paving the way for club legend Xavi to return to the club from Qatari club Al Sadd.

The departure of Planes will allow Xavi and Laporta to build their own leadership group.

Xavi is set for his first match as head coach when Barcelona host Espanyol in Saturday's derby.

Brazil head coach Tite said the Selecao were interested in Xavi joining their coaching staff before the Barcelona great returned to Camp Nou as head coach.

Xavi has been tasked with restoring the fortunes of embattled LaLiga giants Barca following his appointment as Ronald Koeman's successor on Saturday.

The 41-year-old spent 17 trophy-laden seasons at Barcelona before moving to Al-Sadd in 2015, eventually taking charge four years later.

After returning to Catalonia, Xavi revealed he turned down the opportunity to join Tite's Brazil ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

As Brazil – six points clear atop the standings – prepare for Thursday's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier against Colombia, Tite addressed the country's interest.

"I don't have too much information on Xavi to do a deeper analysis," Tite told reporters. "I know him from inside the pitch. And some information from the press that is superficial. I don't know him with the depth I have with my colleagues that I spend every day with. We have to be careful to talk about it.

"What I can say to you is that they talked to me about it. Rogerio Caboclo talked to me about that possibility. And he said that he would talk to Xavi. And I said yes because he could bring, as an assistant manager, the baggage of what he experienced inside the football field.

"Plus the experience he had outside it. As a captain, the conduct he had as a leader, and I could see it even from far away. He could bring his leadership, correction, knowledge, ideas.

"From that moment, what happened I don't know. Rogerio [Caboclo] told you about everything. But, yes, this was talked about. And right afterwards, they talked about Muricy [Ramalho]. And, yes, they talked about it. Yes, he was requested. And this is the second stage because Muricy is the one now."

Brazil are unbeaten through 11 World Cup qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022, though the focus has been on Gabriel Jesus leading into the Colombia clash.

Jesus has not scored for the Selecao since the 2019 Copa America final against Peru, but Tite backed the Manchester City forward.

"Gabriel is an attacker," Tite said. "He is either nine or seven. Either he is on the side, as a wing, aggressive. Or he is the one infiltrating. From the depth pass. He has both characteristics. He has this history in the national team.

"Go back in time. When I took over in the game against the Equator, he was that player, he did a sequel. Then, he played on the side with [Roberto] Firmino and [Philippe] Coutinho inside. We didn't have Neymar. He has this versatility. He is a player who has the physical and technical virtues to perform one or another function. Sometimes, scoring a goal is from the opportunities you have.

"It reminds me of Edmar, a player I used to play with. I always thought that there are phases that the ball hits, hits, and I score. And there are some moments when I am in the right place, I follow the move, but the ball doesn't come.  He will appear. In the last match, it appeared. And it had, in the great defences from the Uruguayan goalkeeper [Fernando] Muslera, two or three accurate finishes.

"That is what I want from an attacker. That is what the specific work has been given and what Gabriel Jesus can give."

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