Barcelona fans finally had a reason to celebrate again as their team played arguably their best game of the season to earn a much-needed 1-0 home win over local rivals Espanyol in LaLiga on their new head coach Xavi Hernandez’s debut on Saturday.
Xavi probably could not have asked for much more in his first game managing a struggling Barca team who are sixth in the standings, eight points behind leaders Sevilla.
It was a dominating performance despite the scoreline and it happened in front of an almost sold-out Camp Nou that exuded hope and excitement for the first time in a long while.
After dominating the first half it took 40 seconds after the break for Barcelona to get a penalty. Gavi played a brilliant through pass to Memphis Depay who was caught by a sliding tackle from Leandro Cabrera. The Dutchman got up to net the spot kick.
“In general, I’m happy with the win and with the attitude,” Xavi told a news conference. “We can get better in many ways but I think we deserved the win to start this new project.”
The general optimism on the city’s streets following Xavi’s arrival was reflected inside the stadium. The 74,418 fans who turned up awoke a sleeping giant of a stadium that had been recording low attendances this season due to side’s bad results.
Xavi’s Barca played well and the supporters responded like it was the beginning of a new era. The third generation in a succession line that started with Johan Cruyff, continued with Pep Guardiola and finally has a faithful servant in Xavi.
Barca’s style of possession with authority was back.
Early in the game, 17-year-old debutant Ilias Akhomach skied a fine chance inside the six-yard box from a low cross by fellow teenager Gavi after a fine combination of passes. But it was a collective effort that had classic Barca written all over it.
The hosts were comfortable in control of the ball, with over 70% of possession, cornering Espanyol who had no answers except to defend with a five men deep in a defensive line.
Depay’s opener saw the fans explode with joy and Barcelona could have score more goals with a little bit of luck.
As they relaxed towards the end Espanyol had chances to equalise through Raul de Tomas, who twice hit the post. But the hosts held on for a first win in their last five league games.