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Xavi’s new approach: How he managed to adapt to his players and embrace the pragmatism of a 1-0

FC Barcelona just won by this scoreline for the ninth time this league season, while they remain the team with the best goals-against record (just eight goals conceded).

FC Barcelona is well out in front as league leaders as they have amassed 65 points, giving them a nine-point lead over their closest challengers, Real Madrid. Impressively, Xavi Hernández’s team have conceded just eight goals in 25 league games, a record in the competition as this surpasses the 10 goals conceded at this stage by Atlético de Madrid in the 1990/91 season or by Deportivo de la Coruña in 1993/94. They could hardly arrive in better form to this weekend’s eagerly anticipated ElClasico.

For the Barça coach, ElClasico is a fixture he has had plenty of success in. FC Barcelona has scored 10 goals against Real Madrid in all competitions under Xavi Hernández, the second-best goalscoring start by a coach after his first four ElClasico games in the last 40 years (second only to Pep Guardiola in 2010, with 11 goals).

Xavi had great teachers to learn from, among them Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique, who could be considered the masters of ‘tiki taka’. However, Xavi has shown that he knows how to adapt to modern football and has learned to play in a more pragmatic way. FC Barcelona has accumulated nine wins by a 1-0 scoreline this league season, while they have kept 19 clean sheets and are the outfit with the best goals-against record (just eight goals conceded).

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Much of the credit for this should go to Marc-André ter Stegen. The German goalkeeper is the first in the history of LaLiga Santander to keep 19 clean sheets in the first 25 games of a single season. Ter Stegen has an average of just 0.32 goals let in per game, and the all-time record in a LaLiga Santander season is 0.47 goals per game over a total of 38 rounds, a record set by Paco Liaño (1993/94) and Jan Oblak (2015/16). Despite having four league titles to his name, Ter Stegen hasn’t yet lifted a Zamora Trophy, but if he continues with these numbers then he is well on his way to achieving this.

Another key player in Xavi’s scheme is Ronald Araújo. The Uruguayan, who is just 24 years old, joined FC Barcelona in 2018 and is currently one of the best centre-backs not only in LaLiga but in the whole world. He is characterised by his great physical strength, his speed and his precision. In addition, he can also play at right-back. Another of the great qualities that the Uruguayan possesses is that he is capable of joining the attack thanks to his great aerial dominance.

At the other end of the pitch, one player who is having an important impact in attack is Raphinha. The Brazilian forward has been decisive in this stretch of the season, with four goals and two assists in the league in 2023. He was responsible for scoring the only goal of the game in the recent 1-0 victories over Valencia CF and Athletic Club. He is also third among all LaLiga players in terms of the most goal participation in all competitions since the start of the new year, with 12, and he is now FC Barcelona’s second-top scorer in LaLiga Santander, with six goals.

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There are also three young players who Xavi is relying on and who are proving to be important in his tactical plans. They are Alejandro Balde, Gavi and Pedri, and the good news for Barça is that the latter could return for ElClasico after being sidelined for a month by injury. Despite their young ages, all three of these players have earned their place in the starting line-up for the Catalan coach and are key players in his system. “They are players with enormous potential and they are the future of FC Barcelona,” teammate Robert Lewandowski said of them in an interview with DAZN.

Something else Xavi should be credited for this season is the way he has extracted the best from Sergi Roberto. The Blaugrana player is like a wildcard for the coach, given that he can occupy many different positions in the system. He can play as a central midfielder, inside midfielder, full-back or even centre-back. Plus, Sergi Roberto has even scored three goals in his 16 LaLiga games with Xavi this season, after having scored only five in his 208 previous appearances in the competition. This season, he even scored and assisted in the same game for the first time in his entire league career of 224 appearances. The impact of the coach is clear to see.

By The African Mirror