Earlier this season, Xavi Hernandez admitted: “Right now, it is really difficult to take Gavi off the pitch.”
The Barcelona manager’s hands have been tied by the campaign-curtailing knee injury Gavi suffered on international duty with Spain in November. “He gives the team a soul, intensity, the proper rhythm, recoveries,” Xavi gushed, hailing a teenager who has risen above criticism to become one of Barcelona’s most important players this season. “He plays with a contagious passion.”
Xavi and the powers that be at Barcelona now have the unenviable task of replacing Gavi’s unique blend of fight and flair.
The squad’s other midfielders have been plagued by injuries already this term, clouding their capacity to fully replace Gavi while he is out for an estimated eight months, if not longer.
With the January transfer window on the horizon, 90min highlights five alternatives Barcelona could employ while Gavi remains firmly off the pitch.
Ederson insisted that he doesn’t have an idol but when pushed for a player in his role that he looked up to, the Brazilian opted for his compatriot Casemiro. If a move to Barcelona does materialise, he may be best advised not to praise a former Real Madrid player.
Boasting the same well-rounded game that is often overlooked when Casemiro is analysed, Ederson’s all-action approach would help fill the considerable void created by Gavi’s absence.
The Atalanta midfielder has improved during each season in Europe since moving to Serie A in 2022 and has emerged as one of the division’s most exciting midfielders this term, equally capable of sparking and stopping Atalanta and opposition attacks respectively.
La Liga’s strict financial regulations allow Barcelona to spend 80% of Gavi’s wage on a replacement given the midfielder will be out for more than four months. Any deal for Ederson, valued at around £40m by Atalanta, would have to initially be on loan before a permanent move this summer. Yet, at just 24, Ederson would be a transfer for the present and future.
An option for Barcelona during the summer window, Giovani Lo Celso has become no less dispensable at Tottenham Hotspur in the intervening months. Collecting splinters on the substitutes bench in north London, the languid Lo Celso fulfils Xavi’s ideal of a progressive, versatile midfielder.
Formerly pulling the strings for Real Betis and Villarreal, Lo Celso described La Liga as “a league that I really like and a league I have great memories in”.
Lacking Gavi’s dynamism, Lo Celso’s unflinching ease on the ball in tight spaces allows him to occupy numerous midfield roles. Had it not been for injury, the Argentine would have joined Lionel Messi in the World Cup-winning squad. Just last year, his Villarreal teammate Geronimo Rulli called Lo Celso “a top player in the world”.
Last summer, Oriol Romeu made the move from Girona to their Catalan rivals, a decision vindicated by his former teammate Aleix Garcia. “If I were [Oriol],” Garica said, “I would leave for Barcelona with my eyes closed too.” It remains to be seen if Yangel Herrera feels the same way.
The Venezuelan’s enticing blend of industry and dexterity has helped propel Girona to the top of the Spanish top flight with 11 wins from their first 13 games – two more than Barcelona have managed in the same time period. Only top-scorer Artem Dovbyk has taken more shots for the league leaders this season and no one can boast more tackles than Herrera.
If Barcelona were somehow able to persuade Girona – and the league’s beancounters – to sanction a transfer for Herrera this winter, Xavi’s midfield would not only be bolstered but a surprise contender for the La Liga title would be weakened.
Gavi’s injury is such a damning blow for Barcelona partially because he has blossomed into a reliable deep-lying operator this term, regularly sitting at the base of midfield in the absence of the injured Frenkie de Jong.
With the likes of Fermin Lopez and Pedri able to fill in further up the pitch, Xavi could target a more defensively minded midfielder this winter. Real Betis’ Guido Rodriguez is one of the division’s most measured exponents of the pivot role.
Despite the best efforts of manager Manuel Pellegrini, Rodriguez has not renewed a contract which expires this summer. Barcelona could secure the 29-year-old’s services for a knockdown price in January so that Betis aren’t forced to lose their midfielder for free in July.
The last time Thiago Alcantara pulled on a Barcelona shirt, Xavi was captain. A decade on, rumours of a reunion have been gathering pace since Gavi’s injury.
Going into November’s international break, Thiago hadn’t played a competitive match all season, last appearing for Liverpool in April. Replacing the hobbled Gavi with a player so familiar with the treatment room may not be the most logical move, but there is little danger of Thiago stumbling while on the pitch.
Indoctrinated by the same ideals as Xavi – even if the Barcelona boss has struggled to get his team to match his aesthetic ideals – Thiago can seamlessly slot into the exact same midfield role that Gavi has vacated. How often the 32-year-old will be available for selection, however, is another matter altogether.