Last week marked 25 years since Xavi made his debut as a professional footballer — and scored his first goal.
“What do I remember about that? To be honest, I was scared. I was very, very scared. I didn’t even know what to do,” the current Barcelona head coach recalled last Friday, looking back at the first leg of the Spanish Supercopa in August 1998, where he played the full 90 minutes when The Catalan team lost 2-1 to Real Mallorca. (He scored in the 16th minute, but then wasn’t even named in the 14-man squad for the second leg four days later.)
“When (head coach Louis) Van Gaal called me to tell me I was going to start, I was just scared. A kind of feeling that, to be honest, I don’t see in young people anymore.
“Now I see players like Lamine (Yamal) for example, with that mentality… that I think I’m not even close to. Young people have changed. They are braver than we used to be.”
Xavi was only 18 years old when he debuted. On Sunday night, he handed his first La Liga game to Yamal, who just turned 16 in July, and the youngster impressed again.
Barcelona’s first win of the season, 2-0 against away team Cadiz, was not a pretty one. Barca were constantly frustrated by Cadiz’s low save, and in the early stages it was clear that some of Xavi’s men still needed to get back to full form to get up to speed after a week of competition.
With them playing against a team so dedicated in defence, the lack of skill in creating chances shouldn’t be too much of a concern, but their difficulty in finishing, with Robert Lewandowski erratic surprisingly, maybe a different story.
Pedri and Gundogan celebrate the opening goal (Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Fortunately for Barcelona, Ilkay Gundogan and Pedri combined to finally find a goal in the 82nd minute. Xavi’s fortunes this season will most likely depend on how successful this partnership is.
But most history books will remember Yamal becoming the youngest player to start La Liga in the 21st century, and after what we witnessed at Barca’s makeshift home in Montjuic, we’ll see More about him this season.
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Yamal was their deadliest player in an 85-minute performance in which he touched the ball 58 times, made 34 passes with 85% accuracy, made four crosses and created a huge chance. about the goal. He completed three of the four one-on-one dribbles he attempted and would have scored if Conan Ledesma hadn’t made a brilliant save in the 28th minute to deny the best chance. of Barca in the first half.
Yamal’s name was one of the most cheered names on warm-up night and he received a standing ovation after being substituted with five minutes left.
Football fans are hungry to find new reasons to get excited, and Barcelona desperately need a number to generate that right now, as the club are struggling to sell off the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys, where they will spend at least a season and a half. Camp Nou underwent extensive and expensive renovations. But at this point it would be extremely naive to consider Yamal’s choice as a marketing strategy.
With Raphinha suspended for two games following a red card in last week’s opening game at Getafe, getting him on the field exactly made the most sense, as Cadiz coach Sergio Gonzalez also realized after the game.
Barca have difficulty selling tickets at home temporarily (Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images)
“We’ve analyzed Barcelona and understand that starting with Yamal is the most obvious choice if Xavi doesn’t want to modify any of the key structures they built pre-season,” he said.
“Yamal is a bit like Raphinha – a left-footed winger who plays on the right. They have similar skill sets, you could argue this one might have better confrontation skills, but they’re not too different. So it’s a convenient alternative for Xavi to keep their form intact.
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“They did what we saw in pre-season: Alejandro Balde came forward, acting as a winger on the left wing. Gavi moved out during the build but he quickly moved in again to turn it into a four midfield in internal channels. The right wing is for Raphinha or Yamal, and then three defenders. Yamal fits like a glove.”
Xavi, who is also suspended for this match, should watch the game from the stands, there are 3 other candidates to replace Raphinha for Yamal: Ansu Fati, Abde Ezzalzouli and Ferran Torres. All were significantly more experienced than he was. But while Abde and Fati aren’t a natural fit on the right, in Torres’ case, Xavi clearly favors Yamal.
“I think he’s matured and can make the difference for us,” Xavi said after the game. “We have to take care of him, but I think he’s ready and I don’t mind believing in youth.”
Some close observers say the coach’s decision to arrest the youngster will be another message of what could happen in the near future for Fati and Torres.
With the transfer market closed on Friday night, the buzz about Fati’s future has not subsided. His relationship with Xavi doesn’t seem to be the best at the moment, as the coach prefers other options even though he has had a remarkable pre-season, scoring two goals and performed in good form.
Against Cadiz, Fati came on in the 69th minute and his performance was good again. Active and dynamic on the ball, he had a good chance to score and was constantly looking for ways to upset the visitors’ defence.
Yamal made his Barca debut last season, aged 15 (Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images)
The 20-year-old seems to have shown more on the pitch than he did last season, but it may be too late.
Coaching sources, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to comment, stressed that they were happy with Fati’s attitude, but no one at the club could say for certain that he was. will stay.
It’s no secret that Barcelona are trying to find a club to sign him, but Fati doesn’t even want to cherish the idea of a move.
Let’s see if that position changes, after once again seeing that he’s behind a lot of players in rank order.
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In Torres’ case, he is determined to stay at the club no matter what and is doing his best to regain Xavi’s trust. He was Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer of pre-season with three goals and continued his fine form when he doubled the lead in stoppage time last night after coming on in the 85th minute.
With Barcelona hoping to complete the transfer of full-back Joao Cancelo from Manchester City this week, the prospect of a fresh addition up front will soon be discussed again at the club’s senior office.
Meanwhile, both Fati and Torres continued to do their jobs – trying to show in the limited minutes they had on the pitch enough to get the coach to change his mind.
The fact is, in Xavi’s eyes, neither of them bring to the team what young Yamal is bringing right now.
(Top photo: Javier Borrego/Europa Press via Getty Images)