Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez has emerged as the frontrunner to replace Ronald Koeman, who was relieved of his duties by the Catalan club on Wednesday. The decision was made by club president Joan Laporta after Barcelona lost 1-0 to Rayo Vallecano that evening. Barcelona are said to have initiated contact with their former midfielder.

Koeman's fate was in the balance for a number of months after Barcelona made a poor start to the campaign. The La Liga giants are currently in ninth place in the league and have lost two of their first three Champions League group games.

Despite Laporta backing the Dutch coach on a number of occasions, there was constant talk about the club looking for a replacement for Koeman in recent weeks. The 1-0 loss to Real Madrid was expected to be the final straw, but the manager was given an opportunity to turn the club's fortunes around.

However, a poor performance against Rayo Vallecano saw the club pull the plug and end his tenure with immediate effect. According to ESPN, Xavi has emerged as the club's first choice to take over from Koeman. The former Barcelona midfielder is currently managing Al Sadd in Qatar and recently admitted that he is "open to any possibility" and will assess any offer that arrives from interested clubs.

Xavi Hernandez is the leading contender to take over from Ronald Koeman KARIM JAAFAR/AFP

Italian transfer expert Fabrizio Romano said that the Barcelona board have started contacts with Xavi "weeks ago," but will now have to check on Al Sadd's position in terms of allowing the Spaniard to move to his boyhood club. An announcement is not expected to be made soon, with just initial talks underway on both sides.

A new appointment is not expected to be confirmed until after November's international break with an interim manager expected to take charge of the next three games. Sergi Barjuán, the head coach of the Barcelona B squad, could be an option to take over from Koeman on a temporary basis.

The likes of Roberto Martinez, Andrea Pirlo and Erik Ten Hag have also been linked with the Barcelona hot seat, but Xavi remains the club's first choice. The 41-year-old's status as a club legend is certain to be tested if he takes over the reins, since his predecessor Koeman was also a Camp Nou favourite during his days as a player.

Ronald Koeman
Ronald Koeman returns to the club he helped win the European Cup in 1992 Josep LAGO/AFP