Barcelona: How Xavi’s new-look side could line up at the end of the January window


Joan Laporta may have looked to dance around the questions, but it is obvious that Xavi will be the new Barcelona manager. It is a move which has been long in the making, but relied solely on Ronald Koeman finally being sacked.

That happened last week in the wake of the dismal 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano. An El Clasico loss preceded that just days before, and the string of poor results and uninspired performances saw the coach on the chopping block.

As soon as the news broke, attentions quickly turned to club legend Xavi. He is currently managing Al Sadd in Qatar, but was quickly earmarked as the man to help lead his former side back to their glory days. It will be an uphill struggle.

Xavi is widely expected to become Barcelona’s new manager after Ronald Koeman’s sacking

Raheem Sterling has been linked with a move to Spain after struggling for minutes with City

Raheem Sterling has been linked with a move to Spain after struggling for minutes with City

There can be no doubting the quality of the squad, but they have been unable to shake off accusations that they fall far below the standards of the great teams of the past. After all, the trophy-laden days of tika-taka are long gone.

And this is where Xavi must start his rebuild. He has a core of superb players to choose from, but must be active in the transfer market and make sure he bloods as many of the club’s promising young talents as he can this year.

According to reports, the new boss has identified Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling and Sevilla defender Jules Kounde as potential targets. Both would provide experience and cutting edge to a side desperately in need of some stabilisation.

Koeman was dismissed immediately after Barcelona's dismal 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano

Koeman was dismissed immediately after Barcelona’s dismal 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano

Club legend Xavi will be placed in charge of rebuilding his old club and leading them to glory

Club legend Xavi will be placed in charge of rebuilding his old club and leading them to glory

But how would both stars fit into Xavi’s team, and which of their team-mates make the cut in the 4-3-3 formation he is widely expected to use?

In goal, his decision is a simple one. Marc-Andre ter Stegen will keep his place between the sticks, ahead of his back-up option Neto. One of the best stoppers in the world, the 29-year-old has often bailed out the team with some superb saves.

At right back, Sergino Dest is likely to get the nod. He has been fielded on the right wing in recent weeks, but has struggled to make an impression and is guilty of squandering several glorious chances just yards out from goal.

Sergi Roberto can also play in this position, but there remains uncertainty about his future. The fact that Dest is much younger may also play into his hands, with Xavi set to place his truth in youth. Either way, though, the coach has two good options here.

Sevilla defender Jules Kounde is another big-name player linked with a move to the Nou Camp

Sevilla defender Jules Kounde is another big-name player linked with a move to the Nou Camp

It is at centre back that one of Barcelona’s prospective new signings would slot in. Kounde has been coveted by Chelsea, and is one of the world’s most outstanding defenders. With his LaLiga experience, Xavi would be wise to move for him.

Next to him, the manager has a variety of options, although each of them have their own drawbacks. Samuel Umtiti, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza can all partner Kounde, but are affected by poor form or aging legs.

Umtiti has endured a fractious relationship with supporters in recent months after choosing to stay despite reportedly being offered out on a free transfer. This move may have allowed the club to tie down Lionel Messi to a new contract.

Pique, meanwhile, is now 37. He remains a reliable face at the back, and is one of Barcelona’s captaincy group. But the veteran has shown occasional signs of decline, and Xavi may decide it is time to slowly ease him into a lesser role.

Gerard Pique (centre) remains a reliable performer, but Xavi appears certain to favour youth

Gerard Pique (centre) remains a reliable performer, but Xavi appears certain to favour youth

As for Lenglet and Mingueza, both centre backs have been heavily criticised for a number of errors at the back, some of which have proved costly. The former has often struggled for game time, while the latter only broke through last season.

Ronald Araujo is another option for Xavi, handing him a welcome headache.

Jordi Alba, another experienced member of Xavi’s new dressing room, is set to keep hold of his starting berth at left back. While there are several versatile players capable of filling in, Alba is by far and away the best option there.

For the three in midfield, the incoming boss will again have plenty of faces to select from. He will be met with nothing short of an embarrassment of riches, but will be forced to be cutthroat with his decision-making to find the best balance.

Sergio Busquets is likely to continue in the No 6 role, but Xavi is spoiled for choice in midfield

Sergio Busquets is likely to continue in the No 6 role, but Xavi is spoiled for choice in midfield

Sergio Busquets looks certain to be trusted to shield the back four in his No 6 role. Another member of the captaincy cohort, the experienced international has admirably stepped into the breach for season upon season, and remains silky.

Just in front of him, Frenkie de Jong and Pedri have been favoured. The former has struggled to make an impact this season, but is blessed with an enviable technical ability and looks head and shoulders above many of his counterparts.

Pedri has been ruled out until mid-November after suffering a setback in his recovery from a muscle problem – but it seems certain that, when fit again, he will be a key part of Xavi’s plans. Handily, comparisons have even been made between the duo.

There are several team-mates who can count themselves unfortunate to miss out. Nico Gonzalez, for example, is seen at the Nou Camp as the long-term replacement for Busquets, and he has been slowly blooded this season by Koeman.

Golden boy Pedri is predicted to keep his starting berth after he returns from an injury lay-off

Golden boy Pedri is predicted to keep his starting berth after he returns from an injury lay-off

He will surely be at the forefront of the new era in Catalonia, and is already blossoming into a very exciting talent. Gavi can also lay claim to being a starlet at the club, and he is another player trusted by the club to perform this year.

The latter’s rise has been remarkable, quite simply. He has already made his debut for Spain, and became the youngest ever player in their history. Luis Enrique was quick to label him as the future of the national side, and it’s not hard to see why.

At right wing, Ousmane Dembele has been given the nod in this team. This is, admittedly, a controversial pick, with the forward’s long-term future at the club mired in uncertainty. Currently, his contract is set to run down in the summer.

However, Xavi reportedly believes he will be able to breathe new life into Dembele’s career, which has so far been plagued by injuries and below-par displays. Because of this, the 24-year-old may be handed a second chance, and some regular minutes.

Reports claim that Xavi thinks he can help inspire a turnaround in Ousmane Dembele's career

Reports claim that Xavi thinks he can help inspire a turnaround in Ousmane Dembele’s career

Leading the line is Sergio Aguero. Again, this position is anything but wrapped up, with the rumour mill also linking the veteran frontman with a move to Paris Saint-Germain. He initially joined Barcelona to play alongside his old friend, Messi.

Still able to find the back of the net with ruthless efficiency, there is no better man to score goals for Xavi, despite the dearly departed talisman himself. And in an intriguing twist, Aguero may find himself alongside a former team-mate.

This is because Barcelona have also been touted to swoop in for the out of favour Sterling. The winger himself has openly admitted to being open to a move abroad from City, and the prospect of working under new coach Xavi is a tantalising one.

Sterling has openly admitted to being open to a move abroad, and Barcelona are a superb fit

Sterling has openly admitted to being open to a move abroad, and Barcelona are a superb fit

Should the sensational switch happen, Sterling would almost certainly slot in on the left-hand side. Barcelona would have to stump up a handsome fee, though, and this may not be possible for them at this moment in time due to their financial woes. 

With the front three completed, some talented attackers have not been selected. Ansu Fati, Barcelona’s vaunted new golden boy, would have to settle for a spot on the bench, but makes for an outstanding impact substitution and rotation option.

Riqui Puig would also miss out, alongside Philippe Coutinho and Memphis Depay – the Koeman favourite who now faces up to losing his starting place. Yusuf Demir, the tricky winger signed on loan from Rapid Wien, is another superb back-up. 

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