How can Xavi unlock Joao Felix for FC Barcelona?

MADRID, SPAIN - AUGUST 14: Joao Felix of Atletico de Madrid reacts during a post-match training session of the LaLiga EA Sports match between Atletico Madrid and Granada CF at Civitas Metropolitano Stadium on August 14, 2023 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - AUGUST 14: Joao Felix of Atletico de Madrid reacts during a post-match training session of the LaLiga EA Sports match between Atletico Madrid and Granada CF at Civitas Metropolitano Stadium on August 14, 2023 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images) /

After months of links, FC Barcelona has finally completed the signing of one of their preferred summer targets in Joao Felix. The mercurial Portuguese playmaker had been rumored to leave Atlético Madrid for the past year and Barcelona was able to snap him up on a simple loan transfer before the transfer deadline.

In 2019, it seemed like Felix had the world at his feet after his €129 million move to Atlético, yet, he hasn’t been able to live up to his potential. Still, Barcelona seem to have seen something in him that warrants a move to the Catalan club, so how did Joao Felix break out and how can he fit in at Barcelona?

Felix got his move to Atlético Madrid after shining in a Benfica team as a 10 in a 4231 setup. Under Bruno Lage, the Portuguese was allowed to drift into spaces and supply his striker with balls in behind. In addition, he was also a creative outlet in a possession-based system with his world-class close control and dribbling earning him comparisons to Kaka. He did not and still does not have the type of pace required to consistently beat a man in 1v1 situations, which is why he was mainly tasked with exploiting space as a 10 and not as a winger. Overall, it was as an attacking midfielder that Felix made a name for himself at Benfica.

However, during his time in both the Premier League and the Spanish league, the Portuguese never found consistent form in any position. This makes it much harder to profile how he fits at Barcelona. As stated earlier, we’ve seen his best work as a 10 but he has not had the chance to play in that position during his spell with top-flight football. So where can a potential fit be found for him at Barcelona?

As it currently stands, there is no singular position in Barcelona’s 3-2-2-3 box formation that would suit Joao Felix and Barcelona. His best position would be as a false nine, however, since Lewandowski is the undisputed starting striker, he would not see as much game time as he should. The change in dynamics from a Lewandowski striker to a Felix false nine would also result in Xavi changing the structure of the team since losing Lewandowski’s penalty box threat also means you lose goals.

If Felix were to see game time as a center forward, the best way to utilize his ability to drop deep and link up play would be to put runners on the wing. This would suit Ferran Torres who is more of an inside forward and enjoys making those runs to attack the space. Ironically, the departed Ansu Fati and Abde Ezzalzouli would also fit in this dynamic of runners who would link well with a false nine like Felix. The wingers who wouldn’t fit this dynamic are Raphinha and Lamine Yamal due to their tendency to invert and create from deeper areas which would unbalance the Barcelona attack. It is unlikely that Felix would get a lot of game time here but Felix as the center forward would probably be his best position for this Barcelona squad.

The only other position for Felix in the current Barcelona setup would be on the left wing. From the left wing, he could invert onto his preferred right foot and create on the high left two of Xavi’s box formation. In this role, he would have Balde overlapping him to retain width on the left-hand side while having Lewandowski forward to try and supply balls to him. It would be similar to a Raphinha style of inverted winger where he wouldn’t take on his man as much but would be able to create from deep and influence play in the left half space. The dynamics of a Felix-Lewandowski-Raphinha/Yamal attack would be balanced should Xavi change the dynamics to suit it.

A big issue with Felix on the wing would be that there is no guarantee he would be able to produce from this position. Since it is a new position for him, Felix would have to learn and change his style of play to succeed under Xavi. Furthermore, questions should be raised about whether it’s worth dedicating that time and having him play there.

If Xavi were to change the dynamics of the team, then letting Felix play as a 10 behind Lewandowski would be the most optimal position. Felix has always played his best behind an athletic striker who makes runs and while Lewandowski has lost some of his athleticism due to age, he is still a more than willing runner and plays the channels well. An example formation could be the 343 diamond and some teams such as Arsenal and Manchester City have already begun using a diamond rather than a box. letting Felix play as the 10 in the diamond would be a role that seamlessly fits him.

Further, it will be a position that is familiar to him and it would not take long for him to find form in a possession orientated side like Barcelona. This example of using Felix as an attacking midfielder from Xavi would be the best and most modern choice of getting the best out of Felix in a Barcelona jersey.

Overall, there are two pathways for Felix to become a productive player for this Barcelona team. The first of trying to fit Felix into the system may not be successful due to his profiling being different than what Xavi wants in the individual position. Alternatively, the choice to rework the formation and change the dynamics that won Barcelona the league last year for one player who isn’t proven is also a big risk. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see how Xavi can fit in and get the best out of a talent like Felix in what looks to be a promising campaign for Las Blaugranas.