“This is the path,” Barcelona president Joan Laporta told players in the dressing room after January’s Supercopa loss to Real Madrid. “We’re just missing the win. But I’m sure that if we keep going we’ll get it.”
To some fans it sounded ridiculous to praise players for losing to their arch nemeses, especially given how little results had improved since Laporta fired Ronald Koeman as manager and brought in Pep Guardiola’s supposed heir-apparent in Xavi.
But in the 12 games since — the last 11 of them undefeated — Laporta has been proven right. If you had to pick a single turning point in Barcelona’s season, the moment some hidden switch flipped from post-Lionel Messi malaise to the start of an exciting new project, that January Clasico was it.
It wasn’t just that Barça had put in a respectable 120 minutes against an opponent they haven’t beaten in three years. It was the way they did it. They played a 4-3-3, the club’s signature formation since Xavi’s playing days. Dani Alves was back in blaugrana for the first time since 2016. Barcelona had more possession, more shots, and more pretty passing sequences than Madrid. It felt like old times.
But was it really? The January Clasico proved to be the blueprint for Barcelona’s scintillating recent form, but if you look a little closer, the tactics aren’t very similar to the system in which Xavi played. This version of a 4-3-3 has more in common with Guardiola’s Manchester City, but even that’s not an exact match.
Here are some of the most noteworthy changes that Xavi has brought to his version of Barcelona…
The central midfielders are runners now
The most surprising thing about Xavi’s new-style 4-3-3 is that he’s coaching his young midfielders to operate in very un-Xavi-like ways.
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