Tactical analysis of Xavi`s Al Sadd and what he could do with Barcelona
Xavi Hernandez is widely regarded as one of the greatest midfielders of all time. From 2009 to 2012, Xavi and several of the core players who graduated from La Masia were a big part of Pep Guardiola’s tiki-taka style of play at Camp Nou, where they dominated Spain and the rest of Europe.
Xavi is officially Barcelona’s new head coach. Using his ideas at Al Sadd, we will examine what the famous midfielder will offer to his boyhood club.
In a recent interview with The Coaches` voice, the Barca legend enunciated his philosophy brilliantly. He said;
“I’m obsessed with possession. Not just for the sake of having it but for attacking and creating chances. The most important thing is to open the pitch up, widen it, as wide as possible. We work constantly on positioning in training… to generate numerical superiority. To play as much as possible in the opposition half.”
It’s hardly unexpected that he chose to play in the Qatar Star League with a variant of the Tiki-Taka style he was so used to at Barcelona, the Cruyffian way of “total football.” Xavi manages to integrate a kind of quick passing and movement with fast, attacking play, even though the players in Al Sadd are not as technical as the top European stars.
The Barcelona legend chooses a 3-4-3 formation for his team. While it appears to be a defensive setup, it is far from it. He keeps his wingers high up, allowing them to stretch the pitch as wide as possible as the striker pins the defence back. It wouldn’t be hard for this current Barcelona side to transition into the formation as Ronaldo Koeman also utilized it many times. But the principles are inherently different.
The build-up is critical to Xavi’s team’s success. They like to maintain possession for as long as possible, creating passing patterns with the three center-backs and one midfielder who drops deep to offer support as they attempt to build methodically from the back. This is reflected in Al Sadd’s possession rate in the Qatar Stars League, where they have maintained a 62% average possession ratio thus far this season when writing this article.
The center-backs, on the other hand, are critical. They’re in charge of making line-breaking passes into the midfield and wide areas. Pedri, Sergio Busquests, and Frenkie De Jong are capable of this. De Jong or Busquests can drop deep and assist in the build-up, while Pedri can dictate from higher up.
It is unclear as to which CBs Xavi would prefer. However, even the aging Gerard Pique is still exceptionally suited to Xavi’s passing style as he maintains a 95% passing accuracy in his own half and 82% in the opposition half.
27-year old Samuel Umtiti is another gifted CB when it comes to ball retention. His passing numbers are miles better than Pique’s. Clement Lenglet could also be expected to join in if Xavi does go with his preferred formation.
In the build-up play, one-touch passes between the defenders and midfielders are crucial as they attempt to open up spaces while the wide players maintain the width, giving them a numerical advantage every time they have the ball on one side of the pitch. When bringing the ball out from the back, players also occupy every available position on the pitch. As a result, they are never hopelessly outnumbered in any area.
Al Sadd try to create chances in the same way Manchester City does, with a few exceptions. The Qatari club’s wingers rotate with their wingbacks to maintain width while City’s fullbacks tuck inside to establish a numerical advantage in the midfield. This is the fascinating part. Xavi’s Wingers are wingers in the most classic sense.
As the wingers advance high and wide, the wide center-backs go to the flanks to provide support, while one of the midfielders drops deep to form a back four, allowing the wingers to attack the box as they move in centrally.
Ansu Fati and Memphis Depay could both easily be suited to this. However, Fati would have to learn to be more disciplined and only move centrally when the CBs are wide.
Another intriguing aspect of Xavi’s Al Sadd is how rarely the central striker is involved in the build-up. In fact, he stays high and central most times, practically playing on the shoulder of the defenders. When they attack, they always have the striker to keep the opposing defence on their toes.
Possession-heavy systems have always been identified with pressing, so it’s no wonder that Al Sadd press high up the pitch, forcing their opponents out wide and isolating them down on the throw-in line before seeking to win the ball.
They adopt a pressing style known as a man-orientated press. It basically means that each of the ten outfielders is assigned an opponent to track. When one player presses an opponent, another player covers and fills the gap left behind by the advancing player.
Because the structure must remain airtight, it is exceedingly intransigent, and a lack of discipline allows spaces in potentially dangerous positions to open up.
The obvious benefit is that the opposition has no free players to pass to; therefore their time on the ball is usually very limited.
Barcelona can readily implement Xavi’s ideas because they have some technically adept players within their ranks. While it may take some time and a few signings for this philosophy to be fully implemented, Barcelona certainly have a bright future ahead of them.
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