Xavi Hernandez began his career as Barcelona coach with a tense and vital 1-0 win over local rivals Espanyol on Saturday night.
The club’s second top all-time appearance maker, behind only Lionel Messi, has been tasked with salvaging the Catalan giants from mid-table and restoring them to their former glory.
Memphis Depay’s penalty, harshly awarded against Espanyol was enough to earn Xavi victory on his second ‘debut’ at the club, while the Catalans were lucky to hold on in the final stages.
Here are five things Mirror Football noticed from Xavi’s first match in charge of his former side…
Tactics… yes, actual tactics
Xavi’s predecessor Ronald Koeman largely kept the key players in Barcelona’s dressing room happy but was often faulted for his drab football and inability to influence the game from the sideline.
By contrast, Xavi likes to micromanage. He started the game on the border of his technical area and spent most of the match there.
During breaks in play, he called over Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Eric Garcia, giving them instructions to relay to team-mates or to heed themselves.
The team played wide, with Ilias and Jordi Alba stretching the Camp Nou pitch to give Espanyol more work to do, while the Catalans dominated possession and pressed high.
Even though Xavi has been in the job for a little over a week, much of which saw his players on international duty, he is already having a clear impact and that will grow in the weeks to come.
Midfielders Frenkie de Jong and Nico Gonzalez had license to break forward and help Barcelona outnumber Espanyol, pinning the visitors back in their box.
However, on the downside, the team looked exhausted in the latter stages and Xavi will have to work on their fitness and intensity. A shocking miss by Landry Dimata and Raul de Tomas’s header hitting the post meant they took the three points on this occasion.
Luring the fans back
With singing in the streets, packed bars and queues to get into Camp Nou, it’s evident Xavi’s arrival has rekindled supporters’ excitement about the club already.
Barcelona had averaged 40,054 fans per game at home in La Liga this season thus far, their lowest figures for over 20 years.
However, 74,418 fans turned up to see Xavi’s debut in the technical area, nearly double the 37,278 fans that attended their last home game against Alaves, a flat 1-1 draw. Only the Clasico has drawn a bigger crowd this season.
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Barcelona fans believe Xavi can be the club’s next Pep Guardiola and there was a marked change in atmosphere within the stadium. The new coach’s name rang out around the ground and the drum beat was as constant as Barcelona’s rhythmic passing.
The club’s precarious economic position means filling the seats is essential if they want to start filling their neglected piggy bank for next summer and potential signings.
Trust in youth
Xavi handed 17-year-old winger Ilias Akhomach his debut, joining fellow teenagers Gavi and Nico Gonzalez in the line-up.
Having come through La Masia himself and gone on to exemplify the importance of home-grown talents au fait with the club’s style, there was never a doubt Xavi would lean on the youth academy.
Xavi went to watch Barcelona B just after he arrived and Ilias scored two goals, which earned him his starting slot on Saturday night for the first team. It’s a sign from the coach to everyone at the club that his Barca will be a meritocracy.
Ilias was electric, a constant menace down the right flank and he offered the team some much-needed width. He lacked some composure but that will come with time. At the break, he was replaced by Ez Abde, another exciting winger who was unlucky not to add a second for the Catalans.
The starting line-up was comprised of players who have come through the club’s youth system, with the exception of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay.
Life in the old dogs yet
Sergio Busquets has looked a shadow of himself for Barcelona over the past couple of years, and yet with Spain, he has been imperious. Finally, Barcelona got the international version of their holding midfielder.
With Xavi’s Barcelona playing on the front foot and high up the pitch, Busquets was at his most comfortable and confident on the ball.
The coach has been asked about the veteran players at the club and whether coaching his former teammates would be a boost or a burden and he insisted it was the former. Busquets’s performance highlighted that, while Gerard Pique was also solid at the back.
The Catalan has shown his commitment to the cause and Xavi’s new dressing room rules by cancelling scheduled public appearances and appears fully focused on his day job.
Starting from scratch
In previous weeks when Philippe Coutinho has taken the field fans have grumbled and whistled. However there was no negativity when he replaced Gavi in the second half and, like everyone in the squad, he will get another chance.
With no money to spend, Xavi cannot write off any player without giving them a chance to fit into his system, even the likes of Coutinho and Samuel Umtiti.
He has already shown his faith in the perennially injured Ousmane Dembele, claiming he can be the best in the world on the wing.
Xavi will try and restore some of Barcelona’s failed signings to their former glory, and Coutinho was given a chance on the left flank.
Playmaker Riqui Puig, frozen out by Koeman, was also brought on in the final 15 minutes as Xavi looked to see out the game in his own way, by seeing the ball and continuing to attack, even as the players tired and struggled to hold on.