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Xavi discusses options in Barcelona midfield without Pedri, Frenkie de Jong: “We need to reinvent players”

Barcelona manager Xavi Hernández faces a major headache over the next month or so as he tries to put together a quality midfield without two key pieces in Pedri and Frenkie de Jong who will both miss several weeks with injuries suffered against Athletic Bilbao last week.

The season-ending injury to Gavi and the poor performances of Oriol Romeu have left only Ilkay Gündogan and Fermín López as quality pieces in the center of the park, and the coach knows he will have to continue thinking outside the box to try and play well in midfield.

He’s already converted center-back Andreas Christensen to a holding midfielder since last month, and Xavi plans to experiment with other players in midfield as he told reporters in a press conference on Thursday.

“Right now there is not much to choose from in midfield. We only have Fermín and Gündogan as natural central midfielders. From there we need to reinvent players, like we have done with Christensen, who I believe is doing really well. We can readapt João Félix, Ferran Torres, Raphinha, Sergi Roberto… but they’re not typical central midfielders.

“We need to try. Tomorrow is another test, and we’ll try to play. The absences don’t change our philosophy. We will try to make our football be the same. Nothing changes, even with two very serious absences.”

Source: Mundo Deportivo

And that right there is my issue with Xavi. While I do not think he’s a “clueless coach” like so many claim without actually knowing much about football or watching the games beyond the obvious, I think the clear problem with Xavi is his inability to adapt and change.

Ever since he arrived at Barça two and a half years ago, Xavi has deployed a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 base formation that attacks in a 3-2-2-3 and defends in a 4-4-2. And no matter who is or isn’t available, he sticks to the same formula.

No matter who is or isn’t available, the right-back will be a third center-back, the left-back will be a left winger, two midfielders will form a double pivot, the other midfielder and the left winger will play as number 10s, and there will be one striker. The plan will be to circulate the ball between the back three and the four central players, and move it to either winger looking for them to win one-on-one duels and send crosses into the box for the striker.

And not only does the formula not change no matter who is or isn’t available, it doesn’t change regardless of the opponent. As I’ve said so many times, Xavi is a very good “Plan A” coach. With the perfect environment of available players who can function perfectly in each piece of his puzzle, the team actually plays very good attacking football with passing variety, off-ball movement and high pressing.

However, as soon as the ideal starting XI is not available and, more importantly, the other team plays in a way that doesn’t allow that Plan A to work properly, Xavi is stuck and there are no new answers, which is why I’m so worried about Barça’s chances against Napoli with the current state of the squad.

Xavi can talk about “reinventing players”, but all he’s really doing is trying to fit square pegs into the round holes of his tactical system instead of adapting his tactics according to the players available. And that is a huge problem.

Mallorca on Friday is a winnable game regardless of the absences, but the bigger games will require Xavi to do something he hasn’t done as Barça coach yet: change.

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