Champions Barça play the final game of La Liga 2014/15 when Deportivo de La Coruña visit Camp Nou tomorrow evening (Saturday 6.30 pm). With the title won there will be a party atmosphere to the occasion and after the match the league trophy will be presented. There will also be the chance for Camp Nou to pay homage to Xavi Hernández who yesterday confirmed he will be leaving the club at the end of the season.
Setting club records in appearances and titles won assures Xavi’s place in Barça’s history but he will be remembered by those who saw him for his unique playing style. If Barça’s footballing philosophy is based around keeping the ball, then Xavi has been the master. Whether he was fulcrum of the tiki-taka game, pinging short passes back and forth to create space, or skilfully shielding the ball, turning this way and that, he rarely gave possession away. He never needed to look down to know where the ball was, and with a rapid glance over his shoulder he always knew where other players were as if he possessed an in-built radar. There are so many happy memories of Xavi’s special moments over his 17 seasons since his first-team debut but his performances in the 2009 and 2011 Champions Leagues Finals stand out along with the 4-0 win over Santos in the Club World Cup and his four assists in the 2-6 win at the Bernabéu. As Javier Mascherano said yesterday, “the player leaves but the legend will stay forever” and few deserve the legend status more than Xavi.
Xavi nearly left last summer but now he can go out on a high. He might have played even less under Luis Enrique than with Tata Martino but his football has been better when he has played and it seems he has also been important in the dressing room. His desire is to return one day as coach or football director and if he applies the same high level of professionalism as he has as a player he seems sure to succeed.
Another player whose future remains unclear is Dani Alves after contract negotiations broke down yesterday. Alves may not have been at his best for a lot of the season but his recent form has been very good. With no clear replacement for the right-back position it seems incredible that the club hasn’t secured a player who is still undoubtedly the best in his position.
We can only hope that Alves’s situation has no negative effects on the team’s preparations for the Copa del Rey and Champions League Finals. The group has generally been very united throughout the season which has been key to Barça’s success. However, with presidential elections arriving very soon and still no confirmation of Luis Enrique’s intentions for next season, there is a lurking instability in the background that threatens to undermine the good work done so far.
Whatever happens in the two finals, tomorrow is a day to celebrate a splendid league campaign this season. Messi, Neymar and Suárez have logically earned the most praise after connecting to form the most feared strikeforce in the game, but the defence has been equally important with an impressive record of only 19 goals conceded in 37 games. Of course, every player in the team plays his part in both defending and attacking but the back four have shown a solidness that has probably surprised us all. Piqué, Mascherano and Alba have all been excellent at times but special praise should go to Claudio Bravo who has surpassed all expectations with a sensational first season at the club.
For the game tomorrow there will undoubtedly be some changes to the team with many regular starters rested. Luis Enrique confirmed today that both Xavi and Thomas Vermaelen will start, and who knows we could even see a game for Jordi Masip between the posts.
While for Barça the game will be a fiesta, for Deportivo it is vital in their battle against relegation. Our opponents are in 17th place in the table, two points above Eibar and Almeria who have home games tomorrow against Cordoba and Valencia, respectively. If Depor lose to Barça they will be relegated if either of their rivals win, a point will give them a much better chance of staying up though they will still rely on other results while a victory will ensure their survival.
Barça: Masip; Montoya, Bartra, Vermaelen, Adriano; Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha; Messi, Pedro, Neymar.
Deportivo: Fabrillo Agosto; Laure, Lopo, Sidnei, Canella; Salamao, Bergantiños, Borges, Dominguez, Cavaleiro; Lucas Perez.
Prediction: Barça 3 Deportivo 0
Date – Saturday 23 May 2015. Kick-off 6.30 pm local time.