The build-up to Xavi Hernandez’s arrival at Barcelona was very intense. The 41-year-old has returned to the Camp Nou at a time when the club is struggling.
The hope among the Barcelona hierarchy and its fans is that Xavi will be able to turn things around. He supervised his side’s first game on Saturday where the Blaugrana beat Espanyol in the Catalonia derby.
It wasn’t a virtuoso performance from Barcelona. But there were lots of positives to take from the game as Memphis Depay’s well-taken penalty secured all three points for the hosts.
Xavi’s side was also very much in control. They ended the game with a whopping 65% possession and six shots on target, which highlighted just how dominant they were.
Eight La Masia products start on Xavi’s managerial debut for Barcelona
Xavi’s tenure is expected to see Barcelona return to its roots, and one of the first decisions he made was to revert to the club’s La Masia blueprint.
Eight players from the Blaugrana’s famed academy started against Espanyol. The entire back four – Oscar Mingueza, Gerard Pique, Eric Garcia and Jordi Alba – are products of La Masia. Nico Gonzalez and Sergio Busquets also took their places in midfield, while Ilias Akhomach and Pablo Gavira started in attack alongside Depay.
It’s still early days, but it’s clear what Xavi wants to do. He believes in youth, and the club’s youngsters are going to have their chances as the season wears on.
Xavi makes winning start, but Barcelona need to improve
Despite coasting to a narrow win against Espanyol, there were moments where Barcelona looked shaky. In the second half, especially, they couldn’t maintain the momentum they started with.
At a point, Espanyol looked more energetic than the hosts. Xavi has inherited a team that has had several managers in recent years, but still failed to move to the next level.
Judging from the former Spain midfielder’s first game, Barcelona are going to enjoy a lot of the ball against their opponents. But they need to improve off the ball for this system to work.
“We had to suffer to get the result. They’re a great team,;they’re organised and play well. It’s difficult to create chances against them, and it was difficult for us to be honest,” Xavi said after his debut game, as quoted by Marca.
“It’s still early, and we haven’t been able to work much with the group, but I’m happy with their attitude and satisfied with the result, but it was hard work. There are no easy games nowadays, but we need to improve. The excitement from the fans has helped a lot. I’m happy with the work rate, and I think the team gave everything. We’ll improve as time passes.”
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The Xavi era is finally underway, and there are positive signs already. However, tougher games are coming along the way, so the 41-year-old will need more to navigate his side through unscathed.