Barcelona march out victorious from a nervy clash with Quique Setién’s Villarreal, extending their incredible winning series to 11 as Xavi and his team are yet to lose a single game in 2023. The headlines were, again, stolen by the midfielders’ excellence as Xavi’s tweak worked wonders in taking the Yellow Submarine down.
Unlike he did against Sevilla, La Computadora lined up his midfield differently from what we could see against the Blanquirrojos. Kessié and Pedri were switched back to their normal positions, with the Ivorian occupying the second pivot role alongside Frenkie de Jong, while Pedri was placed back into an advanced interior position.
This decision by Xavi proved to be fruitful, and its effect was concrete. Kessié was rock-solid in the defensive aspect of the game, halting opposition attacks frequently. Meanwhile, Pedri was arguably the best player on the pitch, which was best highlighted by his goal that essentially decided the fate of the 3 points.
Kessié’s monstrous physical presence and defensive prowess manifested in his ball-winnings, having 5/8 duels won and 6 recoveries. His rather modest passing ability – still he managed to get 5/6 accurate long balls and 4 passes into the final third – was now a better-fit pairing de Jong in that double pivot.
Frenkie, though, had the lion’s share in the buildups and ball progression. His ball-carrying (3/3 successful dribbles) and refined passing (4/5 long balls completed, 5 passes into the final third) helped the Blaugrana massively to overcome the Villarreal press and develop the attacks, while his defensive showing was also positive (8/13 duels won, 6 interceptions, 9 recoveries).
For Gavi, it was a rather quiet day at the office. Starting from the left false winger position, the Golden Boy failed to exert his effect significantly on the game, but his sedulous work without the ball undoubtedly helped the Catalans get the 3 points.
On the other hand, Pedri has been exceptional once again, producing a MOTM-worthy performance. His ability to connect the midfield with the attack, his composed technique under pressure, and intelligent, combinative play proved to be the deciding factor, and his great goal in the 18′ minute sealed the win for the Blaugrana.
This time Xavi did the opposite of what he did against Sevilla, and it worked. After the 3-0 victory over Sampaoli’s men, everyone admired Xavi’s great idea to swap Pedri and Kessié’s position adapting to the opponent, whereas now, the exact opposite brought the victory for the Blaugrana. So, what is really the key in using our midfield correctly?
Against a rather low defensive block like Sevilla, Kessié’s dynamic runs and physical presence as a quasi-second forward and occasionally as the target man helped to disrupt the compact Andalusian defensive lines, while Pedri was tasked to orchestrate the play from a deeper position.
However, against Villarreal’s high-pressing structure, Pedri’s exquisite technique and press resistance in more advanced positions contributed to the Blaugrana attacks heavily, helping to keep the tempo of the attacks flowing, while he can also finish off his chances. Meanwhile, Kessié excelled in his defensive duties as the second pivot.
The only concern can be that an even better pressing team – like Manchester United can be – if they manage to shut Frenkie de Jong down, there can be massive problems with Kessié’s ball distribution, but if we place Pedri there, we would take away his multi-faceted game from the attacks, which would be crucial to breaking down United’s defense.
So, we can wonder what is Xavi thinking and how he wants to overcome such a serious challenge that the Manchester United clash poses. Will he tweak again, pulling something new we’ve never seen before, or stick with an established solution? Hopefully, the future holds the right answer for us. Visca Barça!