By Melanie Hughes
Xavi Hernandez shone in Barcelona’s 2-1 victory over Valencia at the weekend but news of his ongoing injury has dampened the victory for the Catalan club, and for football lovers everywhere.
Barça played 4-3-3 as usual but the line-up was populated differently; Messi was in the middle of the front three with David Villa on the left and Iniesta on the right with a midfield of Busquets, Keita and Xavi. Valencia played more of a 4-5-1 with Soldado up front who was never stranded due to the hard work of Fernandes and Pablo H in support.
The midfield heavy nature of Valencia’s game was effective in the first half, they stopped Barcelona playing the football they love and with Iniesta playing higher up the pitch that usual it was more difficult for Guardiola make changes in the midfield to combat their style.
Barcelona have been playing with 3 at the back now and then with Sergio Busquets slotting in between Pique and Puyol however, he was reluctant to drop so deep in this game and that cost Barcelona their first goal. Caught out too high up the pitch, Busquets was taken out of the game with one pass, as were the rest of Barcelona’s back line. A superb run by Mathieu to the goal line followed by a cut back to Pabo H resulted in Valencia taking the lead in Barcelona.
There were no explicit changes made at half time before Barça’s equaliser but, as always, the three up front were making a habit of switching positions in an attempt to confuse the Valencia back line. Messi was unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions and I think it’s safe to say that he’s not quite back to his best just yet, only because his best is absolutely sublime.
But, who is back to their best and possible better than ever in this current Barça side is Xavi. The equaliser came from not only a great run through the middle by Iniesta but a delightful one-two with Xavi in which the number 6 just dinked the ball past Navarro and Costa for Iniesta to his a lovely finish past Cesar.
The winner from the Catalan club couldn’t have been more emphatic. El capitan, Carles Puyol headed a cross into the net like a bullet. His considerable neck bulging with thick coarse veins as he, once again, led his club to victory.
Vincente and David Albelda were brought on for Banaga and Mathieu in an attempt to turn things around for Valencia but their once inspirational captain had very little to offer a Valencia side on the back foot. Albelda is said to be reluctant to re-hash his captaincy role and things are obviously not as stable as they would like at the club. Nevertheless, they currently sit 4th place in La Liga, joint on points with Villareal and Barcelona. Not a bad return on losing your two best players (Villa and Silva) in summer.
On a sour note Xavi was substituted 13 minutes from time after a recurrence of an achilles injury. There are talks that the midfielder may have to now undergo a Ledley King-style playing schedule since his injury may niggle him for some time. Barcelona manager, Pep Guardiola commented: “My feeling is that he won't be able to play week in, week out, but we will see how he is and how the problem evolves over time.”
This is disappointing news for Barcelona because at the moment they are able to play Iniesta upfront allowing Messi to play in the middle and then Villa on the left. If Iniesta has to drop back to play in the midfield due to Xavi’s absence then it means either Pedro or Bojan will have to start on the flanks; probably the left, pushing Villa into the middle with Messi on the right. Otherwise Barcelona will lose their crucial creativity in the midfield.
With all due respect to Keita and Busquets they can certainly do a job but would I like to rely on them for the season? Not really. As for Mascherano, well, he’s a tackler not a passer. My only worry is that Bojan and Pedro, while they are superb young players, I’m not sure Guardiola can rely on them to perform to the highest level every single week.
Despite what the Daily Mail think, Xavi is the perfect player; he can push forward when needed but he usually has the mindfulness to take a step back and prop up the attack from deep usually confusing defences and forcing them to play deeper themselves or risk being outdone by Messi or Villa’s pace.