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Sep 28, 2018


At times Barca's strategy still operates on the assumption that it's Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta who is controlling things in the midfield. The coach and the management needs to understand that they cannot expect others to simply dole the role of these two legendary midfielders!


Barcelona won't be able to Replace Iniesta and Xavi #barca #Xavi #iniesta #fcbarcelona

Barcelona Football Club has been blessed with an abundance of legendary mid fielders throughout it's history. Even with such a list, one have to admit that it was the Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta, who brought a 'Normal than Usual' stature to those positions. They both remain and still is regarded as the 'Greatest Midfield Duo' of all time; not only in Barcelona but also across the Footballing history.


In the 'Golden Era' of Barcelona, Xavi and Iniesta dictated the 'Game Play' of Barcelona. The duo not only decided the formation we used but also 'The Nature of Barca's Game pLay' was dictated by these two. And the effect of it becomes much more pronounce, when you consider that they did this in the presence of may be 'Greatest of All Time' player, Lionel Messi.




Xavi and Iniesta still Dictates Everything in Barca, even in their Absence


It's quite funny to say that, the 'Ghost of XaviIniesta' lingers in the midfield to this day even in their absence. It's been almost three seasons since the departure of Xavi, but our midfield play has not varied much from the time he left. We still prefer to use a compact 4-3-3 formation with an assumption that anyone who occupies the role of Xavi and Iniesta will gel easily with Busquets creating that dynamic 'Midfield Trio'. Quite a foolish though to have.


Long time back in 2009, I wrote an article arguing Why Xavi and Iniesta is a Unique Phenomenon. Usually these kind of things does not happen in such a short span. In our 'Golden Era', which still is continuing we were blessed to have three Legendary Players come one after other in a short interval - Xavi followed by Iniesta and then by Messi. May be if we add Busquets to that mix, it becomes four in short span.


We were all in 'Fool's Paradise' believing that 'La Masia' will keep churning out similar talents. Little we realised these were Once in a Life time players. That thinking I believed the approach we took with our younger players; most of them have moved out of Barca as we asked them to fill these Legend's shoes. Mark my Word, we may later go back and buy these talents realising that it was foolish from our side to judge them by the standard set by Xavi and Iniesta.


Xavi and Iniesta are the most balanced Mid Fielders in History


What made Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta so effective in Barca's midfield needs to be studied in length to understand the problem the club is facing now. We more or less have trademarked the 4-3-3 formation as the 'Barca's Gameplay Style'. Should we actually make such a generalization?


4-3-3 is a revolutionary system which worked so well at Barca during the 'Golden Era' of FC Barcelona. But at times we overlook why it actually worked - It worked not because it was some kind of magical formula; instead it was the perfect formation to blend the players we had at that point of time. Every formation is like that, you need to use a formation which works for your players; not the other way around.


The domination of Barcelona with the 4-3-3 formation during the time of Xavi-Iniesta was almost absolute; some may disagree but at least in midfield. That was major because of the kind of players these two were. Usually we have mid fielders who are good at creating chances, breaking play, controlling the speed of the game, scoring goals, tearing apart oppositions, dribbling past players etc. But rarely we had players who combined almost all these skills together!


Iniesta and Xavi were players who had almost all of the above mentioned skills. I said almost, because Iniesta wasn't that great in scoring goals and Xavi wasn't such a great dribbler. But in all other aspects they were more or less complete. So in the Golden Era we were working with a a 4-3-3 formation with two midfielder, who are the most balanced controlling the midfield. Now add Messi at the tip of it, one can easily understand why people were in such awe with that team.


During Xavi era, it was he who controlled the tempo of the game. he decides when the game needs to fasten up, when it needs to slowed down or when it had to be made simply stagnant. He was such a great reader of the tempo of the game. Pundits often used to claim that if he can't foresee a third pass he will not make that first pass itself. There is a bit of exaggeration in it but still it also have a hint of truth. The moment he left we were left with a huge void, especially in controlling the speed of game.


Future of Tiki-Taka in Barca's game Play


Sometimes 'Too Much of a Good Thing is Actually a Bad Thing'. That's what happened to Barca's Tiki-Taka style. We were simply taken away by it's effectiveness; that rare failures meant like existential crisis. So we had many complaining about our tiki-taka style slowing down the Game Play. Especially in the first season of Luis Enrique, we heard a lot of fans pitching in for speed ahead of control.


The success of that season defined the failure which came later. The success of that season was obviously due to the fantastic trio upfront but in truth it was majorly due to Messi showing his class after the winter break. When the season threated to unravel, we had Xavi making that famous call to Messi which sorted out a lot.


To an extent one could argue that with Xavi slowly fading away, it was a good strategy to take. But the subsequent failures especially in Europe, had made the fans and club think again. At Barca, regardless of Xavi or Iniesta mid field always dominates. If our midfield is weak, we simply exposes our defense to a lot of danger. That to an extent explains the easiness with which our defense get split up this season; in last season especially against Roma.


And that's why I always believed the 'Tiki-Taka' style as primarily a defensive mechanism. Guardiola in his first career explained it in simple terms defending is not giving the ball to opponents. Without ball they don't score; perfect defending strategy! With Xavi and Iniesta we were able to control the midfield and tiki-taka took center stage. Without them we will not be able to control the midfield with the same strategy. For that we need to define new strategy


Coutinho and Rakitic are Totally Different from Xavi and Iniesta


At Barca we need the control of midfield at all times. That's the way we defend and also we attack. If that control is not there we gets hurt; mostly in the defensive side. That's where trying to fit Coutinho and Rakitic into the Xavi-Iniesta role totally fails. They are totally different type of players. Rakitic is much more attacking than Xavi and will not offer the control nor dictate the pace like Xavi used to. Coutinho meanwhile in my opinion whould not be used in midfield itself. He is absolutely brilliant in attack but I always see him close to Messi than Iniesta; maybe he close to Ronaldinho.


It is wishful thinking to expect the trio of Rakitic, Coutinho and Busquets will mirror exactly the Iniesta, Busquets and Xavi trio. However hard we wish for, it ain't gonna happen. It's none of these players fault. Instead it's the coach's proble. Instead of deciding a formation first, he should start thinking about which formation will work with the current set of players.


Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results

It's no surprise that with the absence of Xavi and Iniesta, there is a lot of mistakes creeping into Busquets game play. You cannot blame him for that, when the team is setup to give the feel that Xavi and Iniesta is still present. It is time we move away from the 4-3-3 formation and look at the possibility of introducing a double pivot.


Rakitic in the World Cup showed how well he could done that role. It may negate a bit of his offensive side, but still it could work with Coutinho, Demebele on the flanks and Messi occupying the midfield tip of a 4-5-1 formation. Valverde if needed can introduce a bit of a defensive formation with introducing a double pivot of Busquets and Vidal.


What is your preferred FC Barcelona formation? #barca #barcelona #fcbarcelona

Rakitic, Coutinho and Arthur are brilliant midfielders; may be the best in the World right now. To get the best out of them we need to use them in a way to maximize their potential. The coach and management should clearly drive the point to their head that 'Xavi and Iniesta cannot be Replaced'. Attempting to do that will result in spectacular failure. Not only it will destroy Barca's chances; it may also make life difficult for these exceptional talents.


In a few years of time we will face another similar predicament, replacing Messi; an impossible task. How we handle this situation will give a glimpse of life at Barca after Messi. The idea should not be to replace these legends; they are call legends because they are irreplaceable. The key would be to create a new identity once they are gone.

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