Are Barcelona still looking for their Xavi replacement?
Midfield legend left the club in 2015
Andreas Iniesta’s retirement this summer means Barcelona are now without both midfield legends who made up such a big part of their glory-laden heyday.
The Spaniard formed a brilliantly effective partnership with Xavi. The combination guided them to domestic and European success.
Xavi’s acute ability to perfectly read the game, pick out a defence-splitting pass and keep his side ticking over is often touted as one of the biggest reasons behind Barca’s success between 2007 and 2015.
The search for the new Xavi
But he left the club three years ago and Barca have been forced to live life without their calm and composed leader.
Xavi was effectively a quarterback. He sat, he held back, he controlled the game and launched attack after attack for Lionel Messi again and again.
It wasn’t as if the club hadn’t prepared for his departure, however. In 2014 they made a calculated move to sign Ivan Rakitic from Sevilla.
In much the same way Barca snapped up Philippe Coutinho to succeed Iniesta back in January, Rakitic has taken on the Xavi role.
The Croatian has taken to the task in fine fashion, too. Barca have won La Liga three times since they signed Rakitic
Xavi’s absence shows in Europe
But crucially, success in the Champions League has eluded Barcelona since Xavi left.
They’ve gone out of the competition at the quarter-final stage in each of the last three seasons.
During the peak Xavi-Iniesta days, you simply couldn’t get the ball off them. Barca controlled the game and suffocated their opponents. It won them the Champions League in 2009, 2011 and 2015.
Rakitic’s talent is unquestioned, and over a league campaign he has proven instrumental in helping the Catalan giants succeed.
But it’s in Europe where Xavi’s absence and his masterful ability to dictate a game is laid bare. A Xavi side would never have lost 3-0 in Rome or Turin.
Rakitic is filling the void, but Barca’s continued troubles in Europe suggest they are yet to truly replace their former leader. Perhaps they never will.
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