Why Xavi rarely plays a cross field pass

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A number of times against France, Spain would win possession in the middle of the pitch, or in their own half and after a few interchanging passes between the Spainish midfieldiers the ball would often fall to the feet of Xavi with Arbeloa breaking down the right and in an abundance of space, barely being tracked by Clichy, who either hadn’t yet covered from a push on of his own, or had tucked inside too much when he was defending, which would happen frequently as Spain’s control of the ball is often in such tight and concentrated areas. However, Xavi would look up and see the option, yet sparingly use it. Often he’d play a short pass to Xabi Alonso, who would be much more likely to do it himself, but Xavi almost couldn’t bring himself to do it.

The reason for this is a nod to Barcelona’s fluid system, where Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola have conditioned this new age Barca into moving as a team collectively, rather than relying on individuals to further attacks. The small passes ensure that the team, step by step, move cohesively towards the opponents goal. The reason for this is two fold. Firstly, it is the total football vision of attacking, every player interchangable and every player working as one unit, one unit with the shared understading of moving the ball with short passes until a player is presented with the easiest shot possible. The second is that it contributes massively defensively. By moving the ball such small distances, the ball is never far away from the mass of players, where the players are grouped. This means that if possession is conceded, or even if it is retained, the shape of the team is never stretched and so attacks are more fluid, and defensively they never lose possession in an area where there aren’t a large group of players that, by pressing hard, can get the ball back as quickly as possible.

There are a few exceptions to this. Firstly, if the ball is a final ball that puts a striker in, then it is a more risky ball that cuts through the defence perfectly to put an attacker through and will be taken even if it stretches the side, as it will result in a goal scoring chance. Secondly, Dani Alves is used in a kind of cross field pass for Barcelona. However, the crucial difference is that the Barca entourage quickly move over towards him to regain that shape, whilst Spain on the other hand are not as quick to do this or as understanding of this concept, and so a cross field ball isolates the wide player more and loses that fludity and cohesion.

Hence, when Xavi looks up and sees Arbeloa 20 yards away to his right, where Xabi Alonso would slice a ball perfectly out to the flank, there is a response in the Barcelona captain, conditioned by hours and hours of training for the past 21 years, which tells him the pass should be a short one, to keep the side’s shape and honour the idea of fluidity above all else.

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