Barcelona travel south to face Valencia in La Liga on Saturday night in a managerial meeting between two of the most successful midfielders of the 2000s.
Xavi Hernandez won everything there was to win while patrolling the central slice of the pitch for Barcelona before becoming the club’s manager last November. Gennaro Gattuso will host the Catalans as Valencia boss.
The World Cup-winning duo faced off five times in their playing career at international and club level. Xavi’s Spain and Barcelona earned three wins to one for Gattuso’s Italy and Milan.
Here’s the lineup Xavi may deploy from the dugout against his former midfield adversary.
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – The German has put his stellar start to the season down to a restorative summer off. “Sometimes you need to have some holidays and recharge the batteries,” he explained.
RB: Alejandro Balde – With Sergi Roberto out injured and Hector Bellerin only just back from a layoff of his own, Balde may be shoehorned in at right-back for the third time this season.
CB: Jules Kounde – The France international has won his last five meetings with Valencia, keeping four clean sheets in the process.
CB: Eric Garcia – The Masia graduate’s first memories of football aren’t framed by a TV screen but come from actually playing in Barcelona’s youth teams.
LB: Jordi Alba – After getting released from Barcelona’s academy as a teenager, Alba worked his way into Valencia’s first team – via spells at Cornella and Gimnastic – ultimately encouraging the Catalans to cough up more than £12m for a player they moulded.
CM: Gavi – The teenage sensation has made more fouls in La Liga than any other player in the division – and more than twice as many as any other Barcelona player.
CM: Frenkie de Jong – No player has made more tackles (20) or interceptions (12) for Barcelona this season than De Jong.
CM: Pedri – Before he made his Barcelona debut, Pepe Mel – Pedri’s manager at Las Palmas – insisted: “This boy is a superstar and he is going to be big in European football for the next ten years.”
RW: Ferran Torres – After joining Valencia aged seven, Torres left his boyhood club under a cloud in 2020 when the hierarchy “told me personally they weren’t counting on me,” he later revealed.
ST: Robert Lewandowski – The Pole has scored four times as many league goals as any other Barcelona player (12). No wonder Xavi calls him “a blessing”.
LW: Ansu Fati – At just 16, Fati marked his first start for Barcelona with a goal and an assist against Valencia in 2019.