On Saturday night, the Camp Nou air was filled with excitement and new enthusiasm. After almost five years away from this same place which used to be his stomping ground back in the day, Xavi Hernandez made his debut. Only this time in the capacity of manager, as a sort of conductor to an orchestra.
As Xavi emerged into the bright and hopeful Camp Nou lights, he might have probably experienced a flicker of anxiety amid all the cheerful noise, amid all the 74,418 pair of eyeballs that had come to witness history.
Who wouldn’t, really? Xavi and FC Barcelona had only recently tied the knot after several years of vetting and evaluation, long-distant flirtation and courtship, and this Catalan derby was a kind of honeymoon in a new beginning.
A Good Momentum
And what a game it turned out to be for FC Barcelona despite a slim victory that suggested a tense affair against City rivals Espanyol. The former Al Sadd manager was without the services of some key cogs coming into this fierce derby, namely; Pedri, Ousmane Dembele, Ansu Fati, Aguero, Dest.
Injuries to the aforesaid had immeasurably depleted the quality of the team. Yet when the debut starting lineup of Xavi as Barcelona coach was out, with Depay being flanked on either side by Gavi and debutant Ilias Akhomac, it felt as though anything short of a win would have been deemed a disappointment, considering how the opening half-hour of the game was supremely dominated by the home side.
Barcelona were simply irrepressible for much of the Catalan derby. It is generally the case that whenever a new manager is appointed at any club, there’s a sharp upturn in the performance of players owing to the urgent need for them to make a lasting impression on the manager. Even so, Barca’s impressive exhibition against Espanyol felt more like the players’ eagerness to buy into Xavi’s vision of how this team should play football.
A lot of work to do
Despite only one game, an easily dismissible sample size, the initial signs are good. It is worth remembering that building a formidable team has always been a gradual and endless process of refinement and fine-tuning, of nurturing and moulding, and scarcely do teams transform overnight. “We have to be honest, there is a lot to improve,” Xavi remarked in his post-match interview.
His debut was enough to realize that Xavi is very aware of the daunting task at hand at Barcelona: to restore the lost identity, to bring back confidence and to cure a bruised mentality. “We’re not in the best emotional state. We’re still lacking confidence,” he admitted after his team’s 1-0 triumph.
This win was possible after Memphis Depay buried his penalty beyond Diego Lopez in the 48th minute. His goal sent the Camp Nou crowd into pandemonium. That was the 7th goal for the Netherland international. Memphis has so far won Barcelona a total of 7 points in La Liga, more than any other player in the top-flight this season.
Xavi Hernandez’s managerial career at Barcelona gets off to a flying start. That is after guiding his side to a narrow 1-0 win in the Catalan derby. A derby Espanyol haven’t won in La Liga since 2009. And now a new beginning is here, slowly unfolding before our curious eyes. Xavi looks at this young squad and all he sees is light at the end of the tunnel. He looks at the squad and he’s convinced he could twist them into shapes he deems represent what Barcelona should look like.
In his line of work there’s normally scant time to establish a blueprint, to get the pieces to stick together. But perhaps, club president Laporta might offer the former Al Sadd manager enough time. At that time Xavi will ingrain in his players his vision of football. And perhaps, who knows, Barcelona might return to the summit of world football where they rightly belong. But for now, they beat Espanyol!