In Focus: Barca starlet can Gav a real go in Spain's midfield

Tom Hancock
LiveScore
Barcelona midfielder Gavi has been one of the few bright spots in a dismal start to the  season
Barcelona midfielder Gavi has been one of the few bright spots in a dismal start to the season

The same week Barcelona prodigy Gavi was born, Luis Enrique announced his retirement from professional football.

Seventeen years later, the former Barca star has called the teenager into his Spain squad for the first time.

Here is why the wonderkid from Andalusia could become La Roja’s next big thing in midfield.

Fresh off the production line

Carles Puyol, Pep Guardiola, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and a certain Lionel Messi. The list of greats produced by Barca’s famed La Masia academy is quite something.

In recent times, Ansu Fati has also made the transition from the youth set-up to the first team — and the beginning of 2021-22 has seen Gavi follow in his footsteps.

The Blaugrana’s latest teenage prodigy was handed his debut by Ronald Koeman in August, coming off the bench in a 2-1 win over Getafe. He started for the first time in last month’s goalless draw away to Cadiz.

A dream come true

Gavi could not hide his delight about his debut. 

Speaking afterwards, he said: “Right now I am the happiest kid in the world, since I was little I had that dream of making my debut in LaLiga at the Camp Nou and today I have been able to achieve it.

“A thousand things are going through my head, I was a little nervous, I went to do it the best I could.”

Gavi's heatmap shows a tendency to drift out to the left-hand side when in possession
Gavi's heatmap shows a tendency to drift out to the left-hand side when in possession

Koeman was full of praise for Gavi, adding: “When they [Gavi and fellow youngster Nico Gonzalez] came on we were much better positionally.

“I am really happy with how they played and with their character.”

All about speed

Gavi is not slow but the most striking aspect of his performances so far has been his remarkably quick thinking in possession.

In a way not dissimilar to Pedri — who shone for Spain in their run to the Euro 2020 semi-finals — he is able to receive the ball with his back to play, skilfully turn his man, leave them for dead and pick the optimum pass to spark an attack all in a flash.

It is the kind of rapid mental processing seen in the game’s elite operators — and it does not feel premature to tip him to join them in years to come.

Statistically speaking

Gavi's pass map illustrates his willingness to be adventurous on the ball and get it into the box
Gavi's pass map illustrates his willingness to be adventurous on the ball and get it into the box

Gavi has created 0.65 big chances per 90 minutes so far this season, placing him sixth among LaLiga players to have played 180 minutes or more.

Just ahead of him is Villarreal’s Yeremi Pino, another teenager who has also just been picked for the national squad for the first time.

Gavi has provided just the one assist so far but it was a crucial one — setting up Ronald Araujo's 90th-minute equaliser against Granada at Camp Nou last month.

However, perhaps the most interesting number of all is nine. That is the shirt Gavi will wear should he make his Spain debut in Wednesday night’s Nations League semi-final with Italy.

Learning from the best

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman has used Gavi in a number of positions already this term
Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman has used Gavi in a number of positions already this term

Gavi’s club captain Busquets also wears the armband for the national team and there are worse players to learn from than the anchor in Guardiola’s legendary Barca midfield of the late 2000s and early 2010s.

As the tempo setter, Busquets will take responsibility for the midfield from his young team-mate's shoulders. That should allow Gavi to get out there and express himself just as impressively as he has at club level.

Pedri did not make the latest Spain squad due to injury but Gavi can take great inspiration from the way his contemporary lit up the Euros at the age of 18 — to the extent that he was named Young Player of the Tournament.

La Roja coach Enrique is the past of Barcelona and the national team — Gavi is the future.

Tags

BarcelonaSpainLaLigaPablo Gavira
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