Xavi claims top Barcelona star never wanted Man Utd move; talks up ‘reference-point’ talent Ten Hag

Xavi, Barcelona, October 2022

Barcelona boss Xavi has played down how close midfielder Frenkie de Jong came to joining Manchester United last summer ahead of Thursday night’s huge Europa League clash between the two clubs.

The Red Devils spent a good couple of months locked in talks with Barca as they tried to secure a deal for the Netherlands international. However, a matter of deferred wages that were owed to the player and the fact that he was hesitant about quitting the Camp Nou left Erik ten Hag disappointed.

The 25-year-old, who is playing some of his best football in a Barca shirt, will now line up against United in the first leg of the knockout round play-offs in Catalonia.

And Xavi insists that De Jong never entertained moving to Manchester, when asked if the match will have any extra significance to the midfielder.

The Spaniard said: “I think he was really clear to me: he wanted to stay with us. So there was no doubt.

“Now he’s our player, I’m really happy and satisfied with his performances, his leadership. He’s in a very good moment, like all the team. I think Frenkie is enjoying on the pitch and this is the most important thing.”

Both teams have been in fine form ahead of the game. Indeed, Barca are unbeaten in their last 15 games in all competitions and are currently 11 poins clear at the top of LaLiga.

United, meanwhile, have only lost once in the 15 matches since the season resumed.

And Xavi feels Ten Hag has done a remarkable job in turning the Red Devils back into major challengers again.

Xavi takes inspiration from Ten Hag

Indeed, he describes the ex-Ajax chief’s playing style as a ‘reference point’ that he takes inspiration from.

“It’s going to be a big game. It’s a spectacular knockout round for all neutral football fans. Arguably both teams are arriving in their best form so far this season,” Xavi added.

“I believe that Ten Hag has certainly changed this team. It was difficult at first but now he’s doing an excellent job.

“They’re a potent team with a physical fortitude, they have a lot of weapons and it’s going to be a difficult tie. I expect a lot of intensity, a lot of rhythm, that’s what you expect from English sides.

“And this is in a European competition so we want to show that we can play at the highest level and it’s a great game for us. I expect the best.

“For me Ten Hag is a great coach. It wasn’t easy to change the situation in Manchester United. They’re happy again, I think also the way they are playing says a lot.

“He has a lot of variance in attack, defensively they all work very well – they are a difficult opponent.

“I think he is a very interesting coach for me, he does things very well, he varies with the three lines, sometimes the pivots play on the outside, a lot of people are incorporated into the attack, he’s very offensive and you see that in pretty much all his matches. He’s a reference point for all of us offensive coaches that love this style of play.”

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