Will Xavi's Decline Hinder Spain's World Cup Chances?

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistJune 3, 2014

Can Xavi still run a match for Spain?
Can Xavi still run a match for Spain?David Ramos/Getty Images

Xavi is still a key player in the Spain setup, but he is no longer at his vibrant best.

The Barcelona legend certainly isn't ready for the scrapheap and is one of the wisest heads in football.

He can still dictate a game, pulling all the strings for his club side. However, he used to be able to do that in almost every match he played.

Now it's more of a rarity that he is the man who decides the pace of any given clash.

Spain's match against Australia may be the only time he is able to do that in the group stage.

The first two games, against Holland and then Chile, could be too awkward for him to be the puppet master.

Xavi (left) may not be physically able to match Holland.
Xavi (left) may not be physically able to match Holland.David Ramos/Getty Images

Chile's Arturo Vidal in particular may be hard work. 

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And if Xavi isn't in control of the game, then there's a strong case for saying he shouldn't be selected to play at all in those fixtures.

When Spain are without the ball—okay, so not that often—Xavi offers very little.

He has lost what pace he had and isn’t particularly strong either. Opposition players can bypass him easily and it means playing a pressing game can be difficult for Spain.

Atletico Madrid youngster Koke could be a better option for the game against Holland, although he is young and inexperienced at international level.

The 22-year-old only has seven Spain caps and Vicente del Bosque is more likely to trust the calm, collected Xavi, who will be playing in his fourth World Cup.

Furthermore, Koke has often started for Atletico in a wider position on the right.

Atletico Madrid's Koke is an option.
Atletico Madrid's Koke is an option.Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

Just as Barcelona have found it hard to pick a side without Xavi in, it will be no easier for Spain.

If Xavi was to be slowly worked out of the side, it would have to be done during a qualifying campaign, rather than the tournament itself.

The midfielder spoke about the World Cup recently, showing no signs that he wouldn’t be playing a key role for the reigning champions.

Xavi told the Times of India, h/t Goal.com:

We were beaten by a rejuvenated Brazil, playing in their backyard. We were tired but I do not like to find excuses. We were beaten fair and square. We tried to analyse our performances after that and believe we played quite well in the remaining qualifiers of the World Cup. What I feel is, playing in Brazil exactly one year earlier will be of immense help for all of us. We are familiar to the conditions. We played five matches under variable climatic conditions. We'll have to play under almost similar conditions this time. It should help us play better.

During the course of the past two seasons we’ve seen how Spain—and Barcelona’s—tiki-taka style has become significantly less effective when faced up against physically strong and fast players, who are well organised.

Bayern Munich delivered a brutal beating to Barcelona in the Champions League the season before last, and Real Madrid did the same in return to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern side last term.

Atletico Madrid also played in similar ways against Barcelona and obtained some excellent results against them last season, including the draw on the final day at the Camp Nou which earned them the title.

Sometimes it’s best to fight fire with fire. Koke is willing to pitch in and do his share of work.

Another alternative is getting Andres Iniesta to sit ahead of Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets instead of Xavi.

At 30, he’s four years younger than his Barcelona team-mate, and while not one to get stuck in, he would do a better job than Xavi at it.

It would open up a space on the left side where either David Silva or Pedro could play, depending on who was selected on the other flank.

Andres Iniesta could play more centrally.
Andres Iniesta could play more centrally.David Ramos/Getty Images

The third option to play in that role is Cesc Fabregas.

That would be Fabregas’ favoured position, but it’s been a long time since he has been given a run in that spot for either Spain or Barcelona.  He is much more likely to be utilised as a false nine.

The Xavi conundrum is not an easy one to solve, but the player himself could resolve it by putting in a masterly display against Holland in Spain’s first game.

He’s still got it in him, that’s for certain. Whether the match will allow him the right conditions to produce it, is the issue.


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