Two days ago, club legend and icon, Xavi Hernandez, was unveiled to the Camp Nou as the manager of FC Barcelona. Xavi Hernandez is coming in one of the most difficult circumstances of the club in the past decade. The Catalan giants are currently sitting at 9th in La Liga. Moreover, much can be said about the Champions League as Barça lost 3-0 consecutively against Bayern and Benfica. Ultimately, Laporta pulled the trigger, and sacked Ronald Koeman. He did that to prevent more embarrassing records, and before things turn from bad to worse.
The Formation Under Xavi and Starting Lineup
Discussing starting line-ups and formations, these two things are never fixed in todays version of football. You can see that in Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, or Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern Munich, etc. There are plenty of teams that change and rotate formation and starting lineups nowadays, and that was something Barça lacked. Under Koeman for instance, you could see that last season. Barça always had an undisputed set of starters, and starting 11 which always remained constant, and only changed due to injury or suspensions.
You may ask, why is it a bad thing? Well there are two simple reasons. Number 1, you become more predictable. Number 2: fatigue. If you constantly use the same players in the starting 11 without an actual solid rotation, players will be drained. This is making the team’s overall game a bit slower and sluggish. Obviously, there are more reasons than the ones mentioned but these would be the at the top of the mind. So now let’s get onto the starting lineup.
As I mentioned before there is no constant lineup nor formation. But he will have a handful of players that he would consider key to his ideas and plans. Xavi usually rocks up in a 3-4-3 at his time at Al Sadd. But he could and most likely will use the traditional 4-3-3, and rumours even suggest a 3-2-2-3.
Ter Stegen: Ter Stegen is an undisputed selection, but his recent form has been quite shaky. For Barça, he is very inconsistent. He can have some good games, but be very mediocre or just flat out poor in the other. Xavi Hernandez could eye Inaki Pena or Neto to start some games to provide Ter Stegen some competition. The German lacks a direct rival in the position for years.
RB: Sergino Dest: There is clear competition between Dest and Mingueza but Dest has shown to be better moving forward while Mingueza has been slightly better at defending. Why Dest over Mingueza? I think Xavi would value Dest’s decision making on the ball than Mingueza’s, obviously. Dest isn’t quite yet a genius, but his decision making, edges him closer towards the starting position.
LB: Jordi Alba: Without Messi, Alba hasn’t been as good as he was. Nonetheless he has been decent. Not to forget that the Spanish left back is 32 years old. He is getting older and time won’t get any slower. Last season he was great, and key in Koeman’s 3-5-2 system. But this time, Xavi is seeking to move on from the veterans. Therefoer, he is keen on looking at alternatives, like Balde. But the young fullback doesn’t seem connected with the rest in his given time on the pitch. So I think Alba could still possibly retain his title as starting left back. However, you never know what could happen.
CB: Eric Garcia: Quite recently, Eric Garcia had been producing some good performances, his improvement is visible, defensively he can 100% improve but his on the ball excellence is what makes him stand out. I do think and I fully support this decision if made, that Xavi will most likely reduce Pique’s minutes on the pitch, Pique is still a decent player, but he is very poor at some times, letting opposition skim through him, and his age also is a factor.
CB: Ronald Araujo: An undisputed starter for the side and is inarguably the best centre back for this current Barça team. Araujo, this season, had been magnificent. His mentality, his passion, his defending is top notch, it’s a shame that the team’s set up let him down. Reports also emerge that Xavi Hernandez wants a fast centre back like Kounde, at the club to partner Araujo, or compete with him to earn a spot in the starting lineup.
CDM: Frenkie De Jong/Nico Gonzalez: It’s unclear whether I should put Frenkie or Nico as the lone pivot, as Frenkie can occupy any position in the midfield three, but him as CDM, is clearly not his best, but maybe Xavi could implement him in a different role as the DM. Nico, however can play as DM, his ball recycling, and ball retention is very good. He can be a pivot and also function as a 6, but I think Nico would do much better as a pivot than Frenkie at the moment. Where is Busquets? With Xavi’s rumoured intentions on reducing the game time given to the captains, I see Frenkie and Nico taking over, and we might see a surprise call up of Jandro Orellana.
CM: Pedri / Gavi: The Spanish sensation, has slowed down a bit this season due to injuries, this could be blamed for Koeman’s ruthless team selection that allowed him to play when ever he was available to be selected, and it paid it’s price. Now Xavi Hernandez, who understands and knows the team’s medical and injury crisis, has already started to plot moves around the medical team. Pedri is a gem for Barça, and his presence on the pitch is great for Barça, however he must not be rushed, and not be overused like how he was under Koeman, which I truly think Xavi understands. I do expect Pedri to be pivotal in Xavi’s plan, but Riqui Puig could emerge and finally pin some game-time and flourish, as well as Gavi, who shined under Pedri’s absence, but for now I see this midfield spot being occupied by Pedri.
CM: Frenkie De Jong: Even though I just mentioned Frenkie as a DM, I want to see, and I hope Xavi will use him as an Interior in a 6 role. While playing as an Interior, he has more spaces to dribble and can affect the team offensively. For Frenkie, you need a great coach to understand him, and to get the best out of him. I think Xavi Hernandez is capable of doing that.
RW: Ousmane Dembele: Unfortunately, Dembele has been injured again, and Xavi wants to change the injury situation at the club. It has been no secret that Xavi is an admirer of the French winger, who was once deemed to be a footballing gem, slowly faded out of the limelight due to injuries, but with Xavi’s arrival and a much more serious medical team and decisions, Dembele could be on his way to revive his career. Xavi wants a winger who can run play wide, and Dembele is that man. Other options like Yusuf Demir could be used if training well.
ST: Memphis: A few minor reports came out and said the Dutchman’s role would be different and limited than compared to his time under Koeman. Memphis is still a great player and I do believe he will be a crucial asset to the Blaugrana this season, under Xavi. I don’t necessarily think Memphis will play as a 9, as once and if Kun Aguero returns, Xavi may prioritise him over Memphis, as Kun is a much more proven number 9.
LW: Ansu Fati: The new Barcelona number 10 has been scoring goals lately bringing up the team’s performance while he plays, but when he gets injured the team’s morale and mentality drops. A battle between Ansu and Memphis for the position may happen if Xavi doesn’t trust the dutchman. But that is a least likely scenario. Ansu’s goalscoring and work rate is something Xavi would like to have in his side.
As a Culer, I am really happy that Xavi Hernandez has returned to Barça as a manager. We needed a change and a fresh start to the cycle, with Xavi being the first to carry the torch in this cycle is sweet. But nothing is set in stone, we may or may not do well under Xavi. We must not always be over excited. However, every Barça fan should be delighted to hear the news of his appointing. Xavi Hernandez also is coming into an injury ridden Barça side, so he won’t have many resources to cook up good results, so I ask Barça fans to be patient with him until he gets everyone back. This season will be just a pre-test, and I expect greater things next season. Nonetheless I hope Xavi restores Barça’s winning nature and an enjoying brand of football that we deserve.