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What did we learn about Xavi from his first match as Barcelona manager?

Fortune favors the brave and Xavi certainly made courageous decisions against Espanyol

FC Barcelona v RCD Espanyol - La Liga Santander Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Yes, Barcelona was lucky.

A derby against Espanyol was always going to be a gritty affair, and Xavi took risks he would have to be accountable for, and put faith in unexpected players that they could get the job done.

I’m a believer that you make your own luck.

Was that even a penalty? Probably not, but when you take shots in the box (what a clever pass by Gavi) you give yourself a chance to get rewarded, and Memphis made it count.

It was the same old Barcelona defense down the stretch, not able to absorb pressure, and almost collapsing if it weren’t for their friend the post.

And yet, they did survive. They got the result. And that’s all that matters.

And Xavi’s influence, for better and worse with certain decisions, was all over it.

FC Barcelona v RCD Espanyol - La Liga Santander Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

That’s a good thing.

We want to see a new manager come in with courage and experiment. Try new things out. Give players a chance to prove themselves. Make changes when the run of play turns against you.

The question going forward, with an even tougher challenge of vanquishing Benfica on Tuesday, will be what lessons Xavi learns.

Will he be self-critical and adaptable? How does he analyze the performance, and find ways to make improvements?

I for one think that Xavi will need to answer, first and foremost, for not starting Ronald Araujo, if that becomes a pattern.

Eric Garcia actually looked super sharp in possession. We’re beginning to see what an asset it is to have a central defender who can pass the ball so well, and keep the ball moving quickly.

Pair that with Gerard Pique, under the tactical direction of Xavi, and you can see why Barcelona’s possession looked so much more dangerous in this game, especially in the first half.

Fc Barcelona V Rcd Espanyol - La Liga Santander Photo By Marc Graupera Aloma/Europa Press via Getty Images

But for me, Araujo is undroppable. Barca need a soldier on the backline, and he’s the best they have.

It will be interesting to see whether Xavi experiments with other defenders, like Samuel Umtiti as well, who could make threatening passes and stand tall in defense in the days of old, and maybe the future too under new leadership.

I thought it was strange to start Gavi and Ilias as the wingers, but I respect Xavi’s right to try it out, and was encouraged to see him make the change at half-time to bring in Abde, who for my money was a saving grace in an otherwise very nervy second half.

Seems to me that under Xavi’s system, the right winger should be right foot dominant, and the Abde vs Ilias performances was an interesting juxtaposition to watch.

Gavi ironically was one of the best players on the field while playing out of position. It goes to show you that he can take direction, and ultimately through his tenacity is able to find ways to impact games wherever you play him.

FC Barcelona v RCD Espanyol - La Liga Santander Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I still would have played him in the midfield instead of Nico, who had a solid game himself, and would love to see him play at the same time as Abde. Two bulldogs are better than one.

As a fan, I’m more than happy to have disagreements with the manager. It makes following the team fun, and in the end, it’s about learning and improving since no one really knows for sure what the consequences of our choices will be until they play out.

What must be said is that Barcelona was short handed and still got the result.

Most exciting of all, we saw glimpses of an identity. Evidence that these guys were putting in work at training, and really trying to apply the plan in live time.

FC Barcelona vs RCD Espanyol - La Liga Photo by Adria Puig/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Espanyol played in a low block, especially before the goal was scored.

Barcelona still found a way to create chances.

There was no side to side and backwards.

It was fast and dynamic.

Frenkie de Jong and Nico were making underlapping runs.

Gavi and Ilias maintained their width and created danger.

Sergio Busquets found the seams and split the defense.

Everyone was fighting hard up the field to win the ball back when they lost it, and some players looked down right unrecognizable while doing it.

The goal was always coming, even if it required a bit of luck.

That is a credit to the new manager, and it was so refreshing to see tactics, any tactics really, put into action.

And now to learn and grow and get better together.

We can take that from this game.

Seeing Xavi and Riqui Puig talk strategy on the sideline in a warm embrace was a hopeful symbol of this new era, that even when times are tough, everyone will get their chance to contribute, and we will fight through thick and thin together.

Mission accomplished on day one.

On to the next one.

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