Valencia vs Barca: Gattuso takes on Xavi as two iconic midfielders meet for the first time as coaches

Whenever FC Barcelona makes the trip to take on Valencia CF at Mestalla, it’s always a match-up to watch. Over the past 10 years, this fixture has averaged 3.1 goals per meeting and there have been some thrillers, including three different 3-2 Barça victories in that time. This Saturday’s duel (9pm CEST) promises to be yet another entertaining showdown between these two historic clubs, while it’ll also be a fascinating tactical tussle as Gennaro Gattuso and Xavi Hernández meet as coaches for the first time.

These are two of the four youngest coaches in LaLiga Santander, with Gattuso aged 44 and Xavi aged 42. Only RCD Espanyol’s Diego Martínez (41) and Rayo Vallecano’s Andoni Iraola (40) are younger. As the bosses of Los Che and Los Culés, Gattuso and Xavi are still near the beginning of their coaching careers, yet they already command complete authority and know exactly how they want their squads to play.

Both tacticians have most frequently used a 4-3-3 system this season and they’re similarly committed to playing attack-minded football, with their sides both inside the top four for number of goals scored this LaLiga Santander season. FC Barcelona are joint-top in this sense with 28 goals, while Valencia CF have netted 18 so far. There’s every reason, therefore, to believe that this could be yet another goal fest at Mestalla on Saturday night, especially with two of the best strikers of the past decade leading the lines in Edinson Cavani and Robert Lewandowski.

Gattuso and Xavi’s previous meetings as players

During their own playing careers, Gattuso and Xavi were two of the best midfielders of not only their own generations but of all time. The Italian bossed the AC Milan midfield between 1999 to 2012, winning 11 total trophies during his senior career, including two Serie A championships, two Champions Leagues and the 2006 World Cup.

Xavi, meanwhile, was a passing metronome for FC Barcelona between 1998 and 2015, winning 25 trophies at the Camp Nou, including eight LaLiga Santander titles and four Champions Leagues, while he also won four trophies in Qatar and, like Gattuso, enjoyed international success too by winning the 2010 World Cup with Spain, in addition to Euro 2008 and Euro 2012.

During their careers, Gattuso and Xavi met on the pitch on five occasions and the very first time was in 2000 in the Sydney Olympic Games. There they both featured as the young Spanish outfit edged a quarter-final against Italy 1-0 before eventually losing out to Cameroon on penalties in the gold medal match.

They then met again almost immediately, in a 2000/01 Champions League group stage tie between AC Milan and FC Barcelona, which finished 3-3. Then came a 1-0 AC Milan win and a 2-1 Barça victory as they went head-to-head two more times in the 2004/05 group stage of the same competition, before their final meeting as players was a 1-0 Spanish victory in a 2008 international friendly. Had Gattuso not picked up a suspension, he’d surely have also featured in the epic Spain vs Italy Euro 2008 quarter-final, which Xavi’s La Roja side won on penalties.

All these years later these two midfield maestros will take each other on again, but this time they’ll do so from the dugout. Even during their playing days, these were two of the most tactically intelligent players of their time, so this won’t be the first chess match between 44-year-old and 42-year-old.

MG Team

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