Barcelona’s midfield remains famous for the royalty that have graced the Camp Nou turf over the years, churning out world-class performances week after week for the Blaugrana. The most famous midfield trio to ever play football played for Barcelona in the 2000’s and 2010’s – in the form of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets.
Andres Iniesta (now 38) left Barcelona in 2018, and is now playing for Vissel Kobe in Japan, but two of the three are still with the club, with Sergio Busquets (34) still playing and Xavi Hernandez (43) now the head coach at the Nou Camp.
During their playing careers, the trio have racked up a combined 2,148 appearances and won 88 major honours at club level with Barcelona (transfermarkt). All three were also part of the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship winning squads with Spain, but these are just a few reasons as to why they were pillars of a dynasty in Catalunya, and why they remain the best midfield that football has ever seen.
Just in case you needed to see a few highlights with your own eyes, there is a video below that perfectly showcases the technique, ability and IQ of Barcelona’s greatest ever midfield group.
Barcelona were the absolute powerhouse of club football and Spain were dominating the international stage between 2008 and 2016 with these three in their primes. However, Barcelona are no longer regarded in the same light as they once were, because of the financial issues that have forced the club to offload their best ever player in Lionel Messi. Other issues off the pitch have led to a European trophy drought of 7 years and counting, but with Xavi at the helm and Busquets mentoring the next generation, Barcelona are slowly rebuilding and returning to their former glory.
The Next Generation at Barcelona
The next generation consists of a collection of some of the best young players on the planet. The signings of Frenkie de Jong and Pedri link up with the final piece of the puzzle, Gavi, who is a product of the Barcelona academy – La Masia.
Much like the generation that preceded them, they all are great ball players with incredible technique and they form a perfectly balanced midfield at the heart of a regeneration at the Nou Camp. This season, Barcelona currently sit top of La Liga and are 8 points clear of 2nd place rivals Real Madrid, with hopes of returning to the Champions League next season.
The good form Barcelona are in this season is in no small part to the trio, and at such young ages, the three have plenty of time ahead of them in their hunt for trophies and success – hallmarks of what it means to play for Barcelona.
Frenkie de Jong
Often deployed as the deepest of the three, de Jong arrived at Barcelona in the summer of 2019 for €86m from Ajax after impressing in the Dutch side’s magical Champions League run.
He has since played 186 games for the club and has established himself as one of the best midfielders in the world. At 25 years old, he already has a wealth of experience to call on and this will only become a more influential tool as he enters his peak years. His ability to adapt as either the 6 or as one of the 8s in the side has given Xavi great flexibility in order to allow others to fit in around the Dutch international.
Averaging 6.88 ball recoveries per 90, de Jong sits nicely in the 85th percentile in this department. It’s evidence of his placement at the base of the midfield, with a clear ability to break up play and stop opposition counter attacks. In essence, de Jong is a great anchor – much like Sergio Busquets.
With defensive IQ, skilful press evasion and a great range of passes in his arsenal, Frenkie de Jong is vital to the rebuild of a midfield dynasty at Barcelona next to Pedri and Gavi. He also brings the level head and experience to share with his two younger counterparts.
Barcelona paid UD Las Palmas €17.5m for Pedro González López, or Pedri for short, in 2019 – which was a hefty fee for a 16-year-old at the time. It was a much lower fee than they paid for de Jong in the same year, and for understandable reasons – but in the years since his arrival in Catalunya, Pedri has proved himself worth every penny.
At only 20-years-old, Pedri has already played 102 times for the Catalan club and has impressed for Spain on the international stage also. Much like de Jong, Pedri has great ball retention and is a progressive passer from the 8 position, averaging 8.25 progressive passes per 90 this year, which puts him in the 96th percentile when compared to his peers. He is also a very creative player, generating 4.17 shot creating actions per 90 (95th percentile) and 1.77 key passes per 90 (90th percentile), which are qualities fans of Barcelona value highly. Pedri offers great balance in the midfield, with the ability to go box-to-box.
The youngest of the three is Pablo Martín Páez Gavira, also known as Gavi. At 18 years old, Gavi is similar to Pedri in that his age hasn’t defined his ability to impress at both club level and for Spain. Being 77 games into his Barcelona career at such a young age is no small feat, and when watching him you can quickly see why he is trusted by Xavi.
He is a product of La Masia, the famous Barcelona academy that produced the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Puyol, Fabregas, Busquets, Pique, Guardiola, Arteta, Luis Garcia… you get the point. Gavi looks to be the next name on a long list of successful graduates.
Deployed as most advanced of the midfield, Gavi is a very proactive player – loving to beat players and play balls into the box. Averaging 1.47 successful take-on attempts per 90 and 23.31 touches in the final third per 90 puts him in the 93rd percentile for both categories, highlighting his advanced nature. His 1.26 passes into the penalty area per 90 (85th percentile) show he is keen to create for his forwards from the positions he picks up.
With de Jong and Pedri offering more balance, Gavi is able to focus on shot creation and pick up advanced positions where he can flourish.
The midfield is the heartbeat of a football team, it’s the centre of the action, so you can’t just do one thing.Casemiro
Filling the boots of players like Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta is no small task, as they’re undoubtedly three of the greatest to ever do it. Barcelona once built the best midfield the world had ever seen, and with the ability and youth that de Jong, Pedri and Gavi bring to the table, it wouldn’t be out of the realms of possibility if lightning were to strike twice for the Blaugrana.
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