Xavi – The Coach?

Xavi Hernandez sat in front of the television two Saturdays ago — and what he saw shocked him. He was watching the Clasico — an XXX horror experience for Barcelona fans, a triple-A rating for Madridistas.

FC Barcelona v CA Osasuna - La Liga

(Getty)

If you are in the thick of the action, even if you are a football visionary like Xavi, if you are on the bench (watching at ball and boot level), and even if you are watching from the stand because of suspension or injury — it is a different experience.

In private, watching without any pressure, any involvement and watching while powerless to even speak to a teammate, a coach, the match delegate, stark conclusions can be drawn — and that’s what happened.

Word reaches me that if it wasn’t quite an epiphany, then Xavi at least saw things which he’d not been noticing while in the thick of the fight these past few weeks as Barca has slowly been letting basic facets of its play slip below acceptable levels. On the pitch when there were problems, Xavi was caught up in providing solutions, taking the weight of Barcelona’s sudden sluggishness on his capable shoulders.

Sat back from the fray, he noticed more clearly that there was a lack of pressing, a lack of intensity, a decline in the amount of off the ball movement when in possession such that passing options were far fewer than the standard three when Barca are ‘flying’.

Over the past couple of days Xavi shared his diagnosis. “Perhaps you see things more clearly from afar. Against Madrid last week we lacked mobility in attack and intensity in defence. These ideas have won us so many games in the past and we must recuperate them. There has been something lacking. When we’ve been winning for so long and when other sides have had time to study us over and again perhaps sometimes it’s possible to fall into the trap of not producing enough mobility off the ball without realising it.

“This is our moment,” he added. “The current squad has never yet had to mount an epic fightback. We are going to need to shoot earlier, be daring in our wing play, smart in our inside passes, look for rebounds from the keeper, win the second ball – but above all we need to play well and intelligently. “If we open the pitch up and the pitch is fast and well watered, quite the contrary to the San Siro in the first leg, then our idea is to get the first goal and make them doubt themselves.”

Anything other than 90 minutes (perhaps 120) of the most intense, highest-tempo football and the 2011 champions will fulfill what most of Europe predicts — Barca’s first elimination at this stage since 2007.

If you are the type to have a little flutter on a match then, perhaps, there are shrewder bets than speculating this week’s wages on what would be one of the great comeback results in Barcelona’s history. Anyone who is realistic will point out that such an outcome is odds-against.

Yet, football is strange, the Camp Nou is home to some spectacular players and the least you can say is that they appear to know what is required. Light the touchpaper; stand back.

Read the entire article Xavi brings fresh perspective to second-leg challenge.

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