Barcelona have yearned for a reliable midfield duo ever since the legendary partnership between Andres Iniesta and Xavi was broken.
The demands in these roles are high, especially given the possession-oriented style that has always been their biggest strength. The midfielders are expected to not only control the game but do so with panache.
The Catalans have always valued results as highly as the means to earn them and prefer fluidity in their football over just the three points. Press-resistant midfielders capable of maintaining tempo and breaking through the lines with their array of passes are crucial to their success.
Ivan Rakitic, Paulinho, Denis Suarez, Andre Gomes and Arturo Vidal were tried in midfield to fill the void left by Xavi and Iniesta but none could replicate the effect the legendary duo had on a game.
Enter Arthur and Frenkie de Jong. The Brazilian midfielder joined the Spanish giants ahead of the 2018/19 season and instantaneously fit in. Arthur displayed traits that soon drew comparisons with Xavi.
De Jong joined Barcelona this summer after a break-out season with Ajax during which he played a pivotal role in their success. The Dutchman is just the sort of holding midfielder capable of facilitating Johann Cruyff’s philosophy, making him a perfect fit at a club like Barcelona.
The Dutchman is versatile having spent time at Ajax deployed as a centre-back before he stamped his authority in midfield. De Jong was not just a defensive screen but an integral part of the attack, orchestrating his side’s build-up play.
The 22-year-old’s range as a midfielder continued to grow as he honed his ability to advance the ball either with the incisive passes or dribbles through the middle.
There was a lot of anticipation over how these two players would perform together in the same system. It was not until Barcelona’s La Liga tie against Valencia on Saturday that the duo would make a first starting appearance in the line-up.
One game is definitely not a large enough sample size but the signs at Camp Nou were incredibly promising. De Jong scored, assisted and registered 53 passes without misplacing a single one. He also completed all three of the dribbles he attempted to cap off a Man of the Match performance.
Arthur earned an assist and maintained a passing accuracy of 96 per cent, misplacing just three of the 69 passes he attempted. But the Brazilian’s impact transcends numbers. He played a crucial role in maintaining the tempo against a pressing Valencia side. His immense control in midfield allowed De Jong to play more progressively.
Lionel Messi will be relieved to find that the duo managed five key-passes against Valencia. This means that the creative burden will be eased off the Argentine when the two midfielders feature. And Messi, freed from the shackles of having to drop deep too often can focus on being more dangerous in the final third.
Individually, De Jong and Arthur can’t be compared to Xavi and Iniesta based on quality but their chemistry does bear shades of the one the former midfielders enjoyed in years gone by.
The duo could bring back the dominance in midfield that Barcelona have been famous for and take them a step closer to moving on from that famous Xavi-Iniesta midfield era.
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