Barcelona kicked off the Xavi era with a vital 1-0 win at home against local rivals Espanyol. Xavi’s return to Barcelona started on a good note with a win on Saturday night as the Blaugrana start preparations for their upcoming clash against Benfica in a crucial Champions League fixture. Xavi received a warm welcome from the fans on his return as up to 74,000 fans turned up at Camp Nou. Since Bayern Munich’s hammering win at the Camp Nou, fans have expressed their feelings by not showing up at the Camp Nou in large numbers except the El Clasico which too Barcelona lost. This win takes Barcelona to sixth in the table, just 1 point behind Betis in fifth and 5 behind Atletico Madrid in fourth.
Xavi’s predecessor Ronald Koeman faced a lot of criticism from the club and fans, who also mobbed him around his car after a terrible performance. The tactics didn’t work as Barcelona looked like a mid-table team trying to win games with slight margins. On the other hand, Xavi was applauded for his tactical game plan and sharing the same philosophy as Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff at Al-Sadd. Many reports claimed that Xavi has brought a list of rules to be followed by the players to maintain discipline and unity in the team.
The change in approach was visible from the first few minutes, Ilias and Jordi Alba stayed wide on wings and stretched the opposition continuously so that players like Nico and De Jong could attack from the centre of the field. Gavi and Busquets started spreading the ball to the wingers and were able to find spaces between a tight Espanyol defence.
As the game went on, Frenkie and Nico made runs into the box to outnumber the opposite defence which helped Barcelona create a cascade of chances. Xavi was constantly giving instructions to Pique and Eric Garcia, who played long passes to stretch the game from one end to another. After losing possession, the Catalans were pressing high very quickly and which helped them win second balls and continue their domination in the opposition half. At the end of the first half, Barcelona managed to register 11 shots and 4 of them were on target.
Despite the scoreline being 0-0, Barcelona looked promising and favourites to open the scoring. Xavi made a straight swap by bringing in Abde to replace Ilias Akhomach at halftime. Unsurprisingly, Barcelona opened the scoring as Gavi threaded a through ball to Memphis, who went to the ground after minimal contact from the defender but VAR and referee awarded Barcelona the penalty. Memphis stepped up and converted the penalty to give Barcelona their first goal under Xavi.
Abde was a constant menace down the right-wing and could have scored the second but missed the target by a few inches. When carrying out his defensive duties he gave away a free-kick in a dangerous position in the 67th minute and risked being sent off as he was already on a yellow card. Espanyol started to push for an equaliser at the hour mark as Barcelona looked lethargic as the half went on. Raul de Tomas almost grabbed the equaliser, when a quickly taken free-kick was sent over the top of Barcelona defence and Mingueza failed to make clear contact with the ball and Raul de Tomas pounced on the mistake only to fire it wide.
Nico, Busquets and Mingueza were substituted due to some discomfort, which opened up the spaces for Espanyol and Barcelona’s defence looked scattered than ever. The visitors missed a golden opportunity in the 84th minute when Wu Lei’s cross was met by an unmarked Dimata who fired it wide of the target from just 6 yards. Two minutes later, Raul de Tomas had another chance to level things up but saw his headed effort rebound off the post.
Barcelona managed to keep the ball in the dying minutes of the game and finished the game with an eventful second half at Camp Nou. Barcelona lined up to 8 La Masia graduates in their starting line-up, except Ter Stegen, Memphis and Frenkie de Jong. It shows that Xavi has trust in his youngsters and no one can be ruled out from getting a chance to fit into his system, even the likes of Coutinho and Samuel Umtiti.