How Barcelona and Xavi's up up to now methods might stun Man United

Xavi Hernandez already has a lifetime’s worth of experiences for Barcelona in the direction of Manchester United. nonetheless very important Thursday’s Europa League tie in the direction of Erik Ten Hag’s crew at Camp Nou might seem for the Blaugranas‘ quick future, it can merely be one other set of vibrant, passionate pictures for Xavi’s already bulging scrapbook.

The saturnine Catalan made the most important of his 151 Champions League appearances at previous Trafford in a rip-roaring three-three draw with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side virtually 25 years in the past. He thought prolonged and exhausting about accepting United’s supply to affix them a pair of seasons later when he felt undesirable at Camp Nou and, in any case, having misplaced the 2008 semifinal to United, he then produced two wins, and two assists, inside the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals in the direction of Fergie’s teams in Rome and at Wembley.

there have been a pair of makes an try at prising the good midfielder, nicknamed “La Machina” (“the Machine”) by his teammates, away from Camp Nou, collectively with by Bayern Munich, who thought they’d captured him in 2014. nonetheless it is the temptation of that current to finally end up to be the heartbeat of Ferguson’s United that he is been most frank about.

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again in 2011, simply earlier than I wrote my guide “Barca: The Making of the best crew on the planet,” Xavi advised me about it. “There was a very very prolonged time after I genuinely thought of accepting United’s supply. I wished a change of environment and issues weren’t going effectively for me at Barcelona.

“i’ve always felt an exact attachment to English soccer and Manchester United can be ‘my membership’ there. For an prolonged chunk of my profession, when it appeared to people like i used to be Pep Guardiola’s successor in midfield, i used to be made to really feel, by some, like an outsider, like a foul man for taking on from the legendary captain.

“we’re not good at dealing with change right here [at Barca]. I hated all that debate about ‘me and Pep,’ and Louis van Gaal [then-Barcelona manager] wasn’t significantly tactful to place an 18-12 months-previous youngster by means of it. What finally made the distinction is that i am as cussed as a mule: i believed of transferring to United, however I dug my heels in. I mentioned to myself ‘I even ought to show myself right here!'”

these two Champions League finals, by means of which Barcelona so comprehensively defeated United, would give starting to some the extremely-quotable Ferguson’s best, most remembered expressions. besides for his growl that Pep Guardiola’s Barca might “move you to loss of life,” the legendary Scot recognized that a “mesmerising” midfield of Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta — plus Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, David Villa, Pedro, Thierry Henry or Samuel Eto’o at their peak — would “get you on that carousel and make you dizzy with their passing!”

It was an iconic expression for an iconic time when the three-1 Wembley win, particularly, was dealt with, by the soccer neighborhood — not simply the media — as one in all many all-time good shows of soccer. Three-time European Cup/Champions League winner Graeme Souness mentioned: “i suppose everyone ought to be standing up and applauding.” Osvaldo Ardiles, a 1978 World Cup winner with Argentina added: “This Barca is the best crew of all time.”

Roy Keane’s view, taking half in as Ferguson’s one-time midfield enforcer, was that “United obtained here up in the direction of most probably the handiest crew ever,” whereas Ottmar Hitzfeld, who gained the Champions League as Bayern Munich supervisor, famous that “this Barcelona might be the most clever crew of all time.”

World Cup and Champions League-worthwhile coach Marcello Lippi mentioned it with rather extra authority: “There has by no means beforehand been a crew which performed like this inside the historic previous of soccer. we’re watching an distinctive phenomenon.”

It was an unequalled and spontaneous outburst of reward from Barcelona’s friends as a outcome of the Spanish side performed and perfected a mannequin of soccer that each conquered and seduced the world. the objective in reproducing all this, nonetheless, is to not induce nostalgia, however forward of one other Barca vs. Man United meeting, it is to distinction how in a particular method the Barcelona side coached by Xavi performs as in contrast with the one which he dominated the midfield for and impressed to 2 trophy trebles, worthwhile such common reward.

a pair of of the important guidelines stay untouched. Xavi’s Barcelona are an attacking side: no particular person in La Liga has scored extra, nor spent extra time inside the opposition half. Barcelona’s press, a critical weapon, does not resemble that of the Guardiola crew Xavi bossed from midfield: it takes place in a quantity of areas of the pitch, and it is fixed reasonably than in explosive bursts, however opponents are discovering that it is as exhausting to disentangle themselves from as United found it in 2009 and 2011.

furthermore, as quickly as Barca buy possession, it is now used very in a particular method. LaLiga stats current that Xavi’s crew move the ball round solely seven instances each time they’re in possession. beneath Guardiola, with Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta in midfield, that “mesmerising” “conveyor belt” would zip the ball roughly double or treble that quantity per possession.

the set off? effectively not like Guardiola, Xavi wants the ball moved forward, vertically, with rather extra quick intent; he does not think about that fixed circulation of the ball earlier than making an try to divide and conquer the opponent “models” his crew inside the exact positional order. instead, this iteration of Barcelona places a extreme worth on worthwhile the ball after which immediately blitzing their opponents with both sharp, forward passing or driving runs from midfield through Gavi, Pedri or Frenkie de Jong.

There was an immediate all by means of Barcelona’s win at Villarreal, which put them eleven factors away from Madrid on the very elevated of the desk, when Gavi, on the break, handed to a free teammate. Xavi, doing the identical touchline dance that any pissed off supervisor might have recognised, leapt about in fury earlier than indicating, with blistering readability, that he’d wished his youthful midfield prodigy to drive on the retreating Villarreal central defenders with the ball at his toes. He did not want him to move.

we’re talking nuances and particulars, however issues are very completely different.

Xavi might name it mannequin The ideas he performed beneath are being “up up to now” and imposed to swimsuit what the forty three-12 months-previous believes is a particular footballing panorama. as of late, Xavi feels rival teams are much less usually damaged aside by fixed, mesmerising use of possession, and extra undone after they’re caught at pace, making an try to re-organise after being pressed and robbed.

If, as we titled the film of my Barca guide, Guardiola’s period was “Take the ball … move the ball,” Xavi’s period is sort of extra about “Take the ball … burst forward on the opponent!” the thought is that it is up-tempo, up-discipline and even up inside the air, which brings us to at least one in all many two issues that most probably stands out most of all.

First, when Xavi was taking half in for Guardiola, it was fully prohibited for the keeper as well the ball prolonged from objective kicks. in any respect prices, Barcelona handed it out from the again inside the hope of dragging the opponent’s entrance line in the direction of them and creating space in behind. Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, whereas beating Villarreal, repeated the tactic that had stood out like a sore thumb in the direction of exact Madrid in Barcelona’s latest three-1 Spanish Supercopa win: he would preserve kicking the ball prolonged for diminutive gamers like Gavi and Pedri to try to compete for in the direction of significantly taller rivals, with Barcelona then making an try to win “second” or “third” balls when the aerial problem resulted in unfastened possession.



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Two examples: Gavi is small at 5-foot-eight, however he is in LaLiga’s prime 10 midfielders in relation to worthwhile aerial duels (24), and he has gained a whopping sixty three% of the jumps for the ball he has contested with opponents.

the completely different factor is that no particular person in LaLiga has gained the ball inside the rival’s half larger than Pedri (forty two). Ter Stegen hoofs the ball upfield, Gavi leaps for it, Pedri picks up the crumbs. It was fully unthinkable when Xavi was Guardiola’s midfield regular, nonetheless it is fully efficient proper now. no decrease than in LaLiga, anyway.

earlier than Sunday’s 1-zero win, Barcelona hadn’t “misplaced” the final ball possession to any crew. Villarreal gained that particular duel with fifty 4% of the ball, although the Yellow Submarine had extra passes, and extra appropriate passes, than Xavi’s crew as effectively.

again when Barcelona usually put Manchester United to the sword, any such stats can be the set off for wailing, gnashing of enamel and beating of chests amongst followers. Now, with an eleven-level lead on the very elevated of the desk (and 17 video games left) plus the Spanish Supercopa already safely stashed inside the trophy cupboard, it barely raises an eyebrow as a outcome of Xavi’s crew is worthwhile.

After the Villarreal match, Xavi mentioned “we’re in an excellent, maybe good, second in defence, the depth the extreme strain.” Zero level out of possession or passing, or certainly something about use of the ball.

instead, Xavi was all about perspective, mentality and about what to do when Barcelona haven’t obtained the ball. “we’re in most probably the handiest second since I obtained here right here as a coach,” he mentioned, including that “now we ought to change the mentality for the Europa League … we ought to level our biggest diploma in the direction of Manchester United.”

i ponder: does he imply that in the direction of a crew used to being pressed, and that is delighted to be requested to win bodily, aerial duels, residing for these athletic, aggressive contests every weekend inside the Premier League, the “change” Xavi is inclined to be referring to might contain transferring Barcelona’s method again, a little bit of, in the direction of the Guardiola idea?

ought to we count on Barcelona to take the ball and move the ball at Camp Nou on Thursday? We’ll simply ought to attend and see.


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