The Xavi Era at Barcelona began with a win in the Catalonia Derby against Espanyol at Camp Nou, but it wasn’t easy. After a sublime first half the Blaugrana took a one-goal lead early in the second, but their rivals stepped up their game and created several giant chances to come away with at least one point. Barça somehow survived and won all three points to finish the night in sixth place in the La Liga table, and Xavi saw some very good things from his first game in charge.
The first 30 minutes of the Xavi Era were better than anyone could have hoped for. Barça were absolutely exceptional in the opening half-hour, with a level of intensity on both sides of the ball that we haven’t seen in a really long time.
Without the ball, they pressed high and didn’t allow Espanyol a second to breathe and try to put together long passing sequences, and they continued to win the ball back high up the pitch in dangerous positions. With the ball, they passed it quickly and with purpose, with very little sideways passing and a good variety between short and long passes with players making several runs in behind the defense and great movement in the final third.
Barça couldn’t find a goal but Memphis Depay and Nico González constantly found themselves in great positions at the end of some amazing passing sequences, but the final ball was lacking and Diego López made two brilliant saves in a one-on-one with Memphis and on a shot from distance by Sergio Busquets.
After being completely dominated for 30 minutes, Espanyol finally grew into the game at the end of the first half and had a moment to catch their breath, and Raúl De Tomás had their only chance of the half and forced an excellent save from Marc-André ter Stegen.
At halftime, Xavi’s troops were clearly the better side and the winning goals felt like a matter of time if they could keep up the good work in the second half.
Barça started the second half with a goal: after a great pass from Gavi, Memphis was brought down inside the box by Cabrera and buried the penalty to give Barça a deserved lead. The Blaugrana continued to attack and keep possession looking for more goals, but Espanyol responded very well to going behind and made it a very tough game.
The visitors amped up the intensity and sent more bodies forward, and De Tomás had a golden chance when a long ball by Aleix Vidal found the striker all alone in front of Ter Stegen, but he missed the target and Barça survived what was their only real defensive lapse of the game.
Barça B winger Ez Abde came on for Ilias Akhomach at half-time, was a threat from the very moment he touched the ball and was involved in all of Barça’s best chances of the second half, but as we reached the final 10 minutes the home team was clearly tired, still only up one goal and desperately needed a second to kill off the game.
And they almost paid for not scoring the second when a cross from Wu Lei found Dimata all alone inside the six-yard box, but the Espanyol striker somehow headed the ball wide. It was a shocking miss and the away team continued to search for an equalizer. They had another golden opportunity when a cross from Morlanes found De Tomás all alone for an open header inside the box, but he also missed it and Barça survived again.
The Blaugrana were hanging on by a thread in the dying seconds and Xavi made his last two available substitutions to waste some time and confirm the victory. The plan worked and Barça were able to keep possession until the final whistle came to give Barça all three points in the Derby.
The Xavi Era starts with a win and a brilliant first half, but the second period made it clear the new coach has a lot of work to do to make this team a consistent force. But the three points are huge nonetheless.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Mingueza (Araujo 88’), Piqué, García, Alba; Nico (Demir 88’), Busquets (Puig 78’), De Jong; Akhomach (Abde 46’), Memphis, Gavi (Coutinho 70’)
Goal: Memphis (pen 48’)
Espanyol: López; Vidal, Gómez, Cabrera, Pedrosa; López (Morlanes 56’); Embarba (Wu Lei 78’), Herrera (Dimata 78’), Darder, Puado (Melamed 56’); De Tomás