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Xavi gives Barca the edge

MADRID, November 30 – His tendinitis behind him, Xavi brilliantly lit up Barcelona's 5-0 demolition of arch enemies Real Madrid in Monday's 'Clasico' to confirm his place as the chief playmaker in Pep Guardiola's team."I’d already said it: when Xavi isn’t there, our game is different," said Xavi’s French team-mate Eric Abidal after the Catalans’ breath-taking destruction of their rivals at Camp Nou.

At 30 and with 12 years as a professional behind him, Xavi brings the touch, the tempo and the vision to Barca’s star-studded line-up.

There are also goals. He opened the scoring in the 10th minute on Monday, sprinting like a number nine into the Real penalty area to receive Andres Iniesta’s pass and lob the ball past a helpless Iker Casillas.

The Barca number six then found David Villa with a devilishly precise cross-field pass in the build-up to Pedro Rodriguez’s 18th-minute second goal.

A goal and an assist to an assist in his 11th Clasico represent the bare statistics, but his true worth could be gauged from the desperation of his opponents.

Ably abetted by Iniesta and the talented Sergio Busquets, Xavi the magician transformed Real’s central midfield duo Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira into headless chickens, who spent the entire game chasing after the ball.

The year 2010 has been a joyous one for the prodigy from Terrassa, near Barcelona, who has now won everything: the World Cup, the European Championship, the Club World Cup, the Champions League, the Spanish league, the King’s Cup, the European Super Cup and the Spanish Super Cup.

The FIFA Ballon d’Or could be the next trophy he gets his hands on, but although he is highly likely to make the top three, victory is far from assured.

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He will face competition from Iniesta, as well as Barca team-mate Lionel Messi, while Wesley Sneijder presents a strong case after leading Inter Milan to an unprecedented treble and the Netherlands to the World Cup final.

Barca had feared the worst for Xavi this season, however, after a gruelling and emotionally sapping World Cup campaign with Spain.

Troubled by tendinitis in his knee, he was obliged to spend several days on the sidelines at the start of October and missed two of Spain’s Euro 2012 qualifying matches.

He returned on October 17 in a 2-1 win over Valencia and was quickly back into his stride with two assists.

His fitness, though, was a continued source of concern.

"I’m winning the war, but with the medical staff and the physiotherapists I’m sure I’ll get back soon," he said at the time.

"We’ll have to be patient but it still hurts."

The dialogue from his club was slightly less positive.

"We don’t want to lose him," admitted Guardiola. "I suspect he’ll not be able to play every week, but we’ll see."

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Xavi succeeded in winning the "war" against his pain, though, and after a superb performance in a 5-0 defeat of Sevilla on October 30 he declared himself nearly at full fitness.

"I’m optimistic about playing in every match but that depends on the pain," he explained. The reaction in the Barca camp was one of over-riding relief.

The day after the match with Sevilla, Xavi declared himself ready for a different war, but this time a football one, as he refused to be drawn into a "war of words" with Real’s provocative coach Jose Mourinho.

The war is not over, but Xavi and his troops have won a landmark battle.

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