Competition Focus

Barcelona season 2023/24 review: Fear and loathing in Catalonia

Dysfunction returned to Barcelona as Xavi’s second full season at the helm ended in both disappointment and acrimony.

Competition breakdown

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The defending champions spent most of the campaign playing catch-up to the title race between their arch-rivals Real Madrid and Catalan neighbours Girona.

But things came to a head in a 5-3 home reversal against Villarreal which led to Xavi immediately announcing his intention to step down at the end of the season.

The ex-playmaker’s public pronouncement seemed to galvanise the Blaugrana to rally before a second Clásico defeat to Madrid left them in a distant runners-up spot.

Champions League – Quarter-finals

Successive demotions into the Europa League knockout rounds served as a wake-up call for Barça, who topped their Champions League group ahead of Porto on goal difference.

They stepped things up in the latter stages of Europe’s elite club competition with a 4-2 win aggregate win over Napoli but another continental capitulation was around the corner.

A slender lead over Paris Saint-Germain disintegrated in the return leg of their quarter-final tie as Kylian Mbappé inspired the visitors to a 4-1 win at Montjuïc’s Olympic Stadium.

Copa del Rey – Quarter-finals

Xavi’s men scraped through successive ties against lower-league opposition before Ernesto Valverde haunted his old club as Athletic Club exposed their shortcomings in the last eight.

Supercopa de España – Runners-up

After disposing of Osasuna, there was no repeat of the previous season’s Supercopa final with Robert Lewandowski’s sublime volley proving immaterial in a 4-1 humbling by Real Madrid.

Player of the Season: İlkay Gündoğan

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Fresh from a treble-winning final season at Manchester City, Gündoğan’s dream move Barça saw him become their standout performer.

The free agent racked up a personal best of 13 assists for the season and was the first player from Europe’s top five leagues this term to create 100 chances.

A wealth of experience also shone through as Gündoğan opened the scoring in October’s eventual Clásico defeat at Lluís Companys.

Game of the Season: Paris Saint-Germain 2-3 Barcelona

The Champions League’s knockout stage continues to be kryptonite for Barcelona and history ultimately repeated itself against PSG.

But briefly, the five-time European champions put one over on Luis Enrique during a frenetic quarter-final first leg at the Parc des Princes.

The hosts had overturned a one-goal deficit in five second half minutes, with Ousmane Dembélé returning to haunt his old club by plundering the leveller.

But Barça came back in the City of Lights with Raphinha doubling his tally before Andreas Christensen completed the comeback in the closing stages.

Top goalscorer: Robert Lewandowski (26)

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Don’t be fooled by a lowest tally since his debut season at Bayern Munich, Lewandowski remained an invaluable source of goals.

The Poland international’s five strikes from February’s opening four games in all competitions earned him LaLiga’s Player of the Month award.

A second half hat-trick in April’s 4-2 win over Valencia also showcased Lewandowski’s full repertoire, capped off with a sublime free kick.

Rising star: Pau Cubarsí

Article image:Barcelona season 2023/24 review: Fear and loathing in Catalonia

La Masia’s production line keeps ticking over with a host of homegrown talents seizing the spotlight in Lamine Yamal, Fermín López and Marc Guiu.

But few enjoyed a greater impact than Cubarsí, who looked every inch an accomplished centre-back since making his first-team debut in January.

Still just 17, the Girona-born prospect has already been rewarded for his imperious form with a new contract and a Spain call-up alongside fellow shining star Yamal.

What comes next?

Article image:Barcelona season 2023/24 review: Fear and loathing in Catalonia

Another summer of change looms after Xavi was dismissed before the season’s finale, despite recently reversing his decision to leave the club.

President Joan Laporta will get his wish with the appointment of a German coach as Hansi Flick is set to lead Barça into a new chapter.

Off the pitch, fans will soon be returning to Camp Nou with plans to be back in their spiritual home ahead of the club’s 125th anniversary celebrations in November.

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