Barcelona centre-back Ronald Araujo has turned into a defensive powerhouse under Xavi and his latest showing harked back to the days of Carles Puyol.
For too long now, Barcelona have been considered a soft touch at the back. A team who is renowned for its tiki-taka flow has so often come up short due to a fragile backline.
You only have to go back through their European exits of years gone by to paint you a damning picture. The memories of Bayern Munich scoring eight or Liverpool’s Anfield comeback will scar a generation of Barcelona fans for life.
Xavi would have been well aware of the state of the defensive unit when he took the job. Gerard Pique’s powers had declined and the likes of Samuel Umtiti and Clement Lenglet faded away after promising starts.
He needed to build his defensive unit around someone else. A player who hadn’t been scarred by their previous European collapses. That’s where Araujo comes in.
The defender had only featured sparingly under Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien. Ronald Koeman afforded him some more opportunities, but it is Xavi who has built his new defensive unit around the 23-year-old.
Barcelona’s remarkable defensive record this season shouldn’t go unnoticed. They have conceded a mere seven goals from 21 league matches so far, at a rate of just 0.33 goals per game.
If they are able to maintain that ratio for an entire La Liga season, they would only concede 13 goals all season and would break a record in the process.
The current La Liga record for the fewest goals conceded over an entire season currently sits at 18. Atletico Madrid in 2015-16 managed to match the record which has been held by Deportivo La Coruna since 1993-94.
Araujo has been the key to their defensive stability this season and his last-ditch blocks and reading of the game bring back fond memories of Puyol.
The former Barcelona defender was a warrior on the pitch and was fundamental to their success for over a decade. His unfaltering spirit was the ideal counterbalance to Barcelona’s other technical players at the time.
Araujo has tapped into that psyche this season and his latest defensive display against Villarreal further showcased his talents. There is no getting past him right now.
Ronald Araújo will go down as one of the top 5 best defenders in Barcelona’s history.
His dedication and leadership are second to none 🇺🇾🔥
— Sara 🦋 (@SaraFCBi) February 12, 2023
The spirit of the former Barcelona captain lives on in Araujo, who has garnered plenty of praise for his battling performances of late. After the match, Xavi told reporters: “He is the player who has grown the most with the ball, he is extraordinary.”
Alejandro Balde echoed Xavi’s thoughts as he told Sport: “Araujo is a beast. He is a certainty back and we are very happy to have him with us.”
The Uruguayan defender made three tackles, won five ground duels, played two accurate long balls and had an 88% pass accuracy against Villarreal over the weekend.
Araujo himself spoke to reports after the match explaining: “First of all I’m really happy about the win. It was so important to win today, it’s always hard here.
“I’m happy to help the team defensively and up front when I have to. We got the three points, kept a clean sheet. We are working really well defensively and in attack as well,” he said.
“It [the defence] is something we needed to improve. We conceded too many goals last season. We struggled to keep clean sheets. We are doing well and we are happy with our unbeaten run. It’s the work of the whole team.”
We’ll be waiting with the popcorn to watch Araujo up against Marcus Rashford on Thursday night in the Europa League. With both players in fine form right now, it should be one hell of a battle.