Football News

Xavi names surprising player as toughest opponent as he prepares for his 100th game in charge of Barcelona

By James Amey

Published: 12:12, 3 October 2023 | Updated: 9:54, 5 October 2023

“I don’t have any doubts, he’s ready to do the job. He knows the game, he has passion and I’m pretty sure he has more experience now than I had when I took over”. 

These were the words of former teammate and mentor Pep Guardiola when Xavi took over at Barcelona after the sacking of Ronald Koeman in November 2021.

Fast forward nearly two years and with two trophies under his belt, the midfielder, who made an incredible 767 appearances for the club during his 17-year stint, is preparing to take charge of his 100th game as manager of the the Catalan giants. Barcelona face Porto in the Champions League on Wednesday, the 10th different manager to reach this milestone.

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Despite a tough start to his life back in Barcelona, the powers that be kept faith with the 43-year-old, as he stamped his style on the side. They were rewarded with two trophies in 2022 and 2023, beating rivals Real Madrid 3-1 in the Supercopa de España final, after finishing a whopping 10 points ahead them in the league to secure the clubs’ 27th LaLiga title as Xavi became just the fifth man to win the title as both a player and a manager of the club.

After 99 games, Xavi’s record reads 63 wins, 17 draws and 19 defeats with a 63.6% win ratio, which is the fourth-best of any manager in their first 100 games for the club after Luis Enrique (80%), Pep Guardiola (71%) and Ernesto Valverde, who won 68 of his first 100 games in charge. In terms of goals scored compared to the aforementioned managers, Xavi also comes in fourth with 191, with Luis Enrique once again topping the charts with 282, when MSN was at it’s most deadliest, followed by Pep with 242 and Valverde with 241.

Considering the fact that the club has been in financial turmoil and Xavi has taken over during the time when the irreplaceable Lionel Messi left the club, these numbers are far more impressive. Especially when you add in the fact that Barcelona conceded just 20 goals in the whole of the season in LaLiga last term, including just four in their 19 home league matches.

The 43-year-old has faced 11 different sides multiple times without losing a single match during his time back at Barcelona, including Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Napoli. However, there is just one side that has a 100% record against him in Bayern Munich, who won all three matches in the Champions League without conceding a single goal.

So it’s no surprise during his recent interview with Mundo Deportivo, he named them as one his toughest opponents, but what was surprising was who he thought were tactically superior.

“Real Madrid is always very complicated. And so is Bayern, but tactically speaking, Inter Milan were the best set-up. They used 5-3-2 perfectly against us.” he revealed.

Barcelona played twice against Simone Ingazhi’s side in the group stages of the Champions League last season. The teams played out an enthralling 3-3 draw at home before losing 1-0 at the San Siro, where they managed just seven shots. Xavi became the first manager in Barcelona’s history to lose each of his first three UCL away games; the Italians went on to make the Champions League final.

Having been knocked out of the UCL, Barca found themselves in the Europa League where they come up against Manchester United and Marcus Rashford, who scored and assisted at Camp Nou after a brilliant run in a 2-2 draw, with Xavi already fully aware of the Englishman’s qualities.

“In transition he’s very, very dangerous so, yes, we need to take care of all of them but especially Rashford. He’s one of the most dangerous players now in Europe, yeah. He’s very fast and very good at dribbling one-vs-one,” he said during the press conference at the time, also mentioning the Manchester United man once again during his talk with Mundo Deportivo, when asked about his toughest opponents.

“Rashford cost us a lot. Also Vinicius, [Karim] Benzema…”

Rashford became the first Manchester United player to score 30+ goals across all competitions in a single season since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club last campaign. However he has struggled for form so far in 2023/24.