Xavi and Florian Wirtz have been among the standout Bundesliga players so far this season, but how do they compare ahead of RB Leipzig's meeting with leaders Bayer Leverkusen?
The opening weekend of the 2023/24 Bundesliga season included a blockbuster clash between Leverkusen and Leipzig. A 3-2 victory for Xabi Alonso’s side was the first of a record, on-going unbeaten start to the campaign. It was also the first senior meeting between star men Xavi and Wirtz.
Wirtz has bounced back strongly after a difficult 2022/23 season blighted by injury. This term, he has shone in attack, scoring five times and assisting a further seven in the Bundesliga. Alongside Victor Boniface and Jonas Hofmann in attack, Wirtz has blossomed.
Similarly, Leipzig’s Paris Saint-Germain loanee Xavi has also been a delight to watch so far. Just like Wirtz, Xavi has seven assists in the league, as well as scoring four goals in that time. Both youngsters have also contributed to their clubs’ successes in European competitions.
Watch: Florian Wirtz helped Leverkusen edge Leipzig on Matchday 1
Going with the Flo
Putting the worst of his injuries behind him, Wirtz has flourished this season for Leverkusen, taking the mantle of creative maestro, the one player who can decide games on his own.
In fact, out of his 15 starts in the league this season, Wirtz has failed to register a goal involvement in just five of those matches. His last four appearances in the Bundesliga have brought four goal contributions in total.
Playing alongside Hofmann and just behind Boniface or Patrik Schick in Leverkusen’s three-man attack, Wirtz can be both the goal-maker or taker according to the demands of the situation.
Watch: Wirtz named December Player of the Month
Not only is the 20-year-old one of the biggest talents in the league, he is already one of the league’s most masterful players on the ball.
Wirtz’s movement between the lines, and his ability to receive and turn on the ball is second to none. The Germany international’s dribbling ability is the standout aspect about him. You only have to look at his goal against Freiburg on Matchday 9 to understand why.
It is that kind of skill that makes Wirtz a standout player compared to the rest and also makes him such a danger to opposing defences. His manager Alonso has seen a lot in his time as a professional footballer, but even he was taken aback by Wirtz's sublime dribbling ability for the goal he scored against Freiburg.
The Leverkusen boss said after the game, "I'll remember that for a long time".
Watch: Wirtz's sublime solo goal against Freiburg
Wirtz the initiator
Only Boniface and adventurous full-back Alejandro Grimaldo have more goal contributions for Leverkusen this season than Wirtz's 12 in the Bundesliga.
Wirtz's goal and assist showing against Eintracht Frankfurt was the perfect demonstration of just how devastating he can be in a split second.
With Leverkusen under pressure from Die Adler, centre-back Edmond Tapsoba threaded a pass through to Wirtz, who was free of markers and ready to receive in the middle. A quick shift towards the Frankfurt goal and Wirtz was away. A perfectly played through ball to Boniface was the final action before the back of the net bulged.
The Nigeria international returned the favour for the final goal of the game, setting up Wirtz for a simple chipped finish past Kevin Trapp in goal.
This is another big part of Wirtz's skillset, his ability to find the gaps to set up shots for his teammates.
This season, Wirtz has set up 39 shot attempts for his Leverkusen teammates, more than any other player in Die Werkself's squad. One of the big reasons for that impressive number is Wirtz's ability to combine with his teammates. No Bundesliga player has been involved in more one-two combinations than Wirtz, who has 23 so far.
Being able to repeatedly create chances for team-mates has resulted in seven assists for the second-youngest Bundesliga goalscorer of all time. Only Leroy Sané has more in the league with 10. On top of that, only Deniz Undav has more shots that hit the woodwork (4) than Wirtz's three.
The Pulheim native, who joined Leverkusen from local rivals Cologne, is no slouch when it comes to his running ability, either. He has run an average of 7.64 miles (12.3 km) per 90 minutes this season. Reaching a top speed of 21.4 miles per hour (34.4 km/h), Wirtz can be deadly in transition when given the space to run at the opposition goal.
Xavi the wizard
Wirtz's counterpart on Saturday has had an incredible first season in the Bundesliga with Leipzig, having joined on loan from PSG following a one-campaign cameo at PSV Eindhoven.
World renowned for being one of the finest young attackers around, Xavi has wasted no time in adjusting to the Bundesliga. It took him just two matchdays to get his first Bundesliga goal and assist, achieving both against Stuttgart on Matchday 2.
Watch: RB Leipzig 5-1 VfB Stuttgart - highlights
Much like Wirtz, Xavi is primarily an attacking midfielder but has a lot more versatility to his game than the Leverkusen midfielder.
The 20-year-old Dutchman is well capable of playing either on the left or right flank as a wide attacker, in addition to being a very effective central creative force.
Starting each of his 17 Bundesliga appearances, Xavi has been essential to Marco Rose's side since day one. In that time, the young Dutch star has accumulated four goals and laid on a further seven strikes for his teammates.
Xavi's 11 goal involvements have only been bettered in the squad by fellow summer arrival Loïs Openda, who has managed a tally of 15 so far.
The Belgium international is Xavi's partner in crime, and both players come alive on the counter-attack, thriving on the chaos in the opposition's defence. Both are quick in offensive transition and able to blow teams away with their efficiency in finishing chances.
Watch: All Xavi's assists for Loïs Openda so far
Less reliant on his physical traits than Wirtz, Xavi can be devastatingly good with his final pass or shot.
His low centre of gravity allows him to manipulate the ball and weave past crowds of opposition markers. In fact, this season, the Dutchman has already won 54 percent of his duels, also engaging in more duels than any other at Die Roten Bullen.
Xavi's style of play also means that he is prone to being tackled often by defenders, and he has drawn 40 fouls from the opposition this season, once again, more than any other player at Leipzig.
As seen in the below example, once he gets to carry the ball from deep into space with runners alongside him, it's game over for the opposition.
In fact, of his 43 shot attempts so far this season, 22 have been long-range attempts. He has the technique to curl shots beyond the keeper's reach into corners, and he's already shown that this season.
That volume of shot attempts is even higher than the number of shots he has assisted for his Leipzig teammates which is 41. When there's no option to pass, Xavi isn't afraid to launch it himself.
Watch: Xavi named Bundesliga Rookie of the Month for December
All of this adds to the intrigue of this clash on Matchday 18. Not only will fans be eager to watch Alonso-ball vs. Rose-ball, they will also be excited to see the outcome of Round Two of Xavi vs. Wirtz.
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