Xavi Hernandez marked his managerial debut with Barcelona with a win as the Blaugrana picked up a 1-0 Catalonia derby win over Espanyol.
Here are four factors that caught our eye during the match:
Observation 1: The Feel Good Factor Is Back
There has been a sense of doom and gloom around Barcelona lately.
The club is under unfathomable debt, had to let go of their best player in Lionel Messi, and experienced some dreadful results under Ronald Koeman.
With almost nothing going their way at the moment, Barcelona fans were not much eager to come to Camp Nou and watch their team play.
Barcelona had been posting their lowest average attendance figures in two decades as the club’s 99-thousand seat stadium welcomed only 40,054 spectators per match.
But, the attendance number burgeoned to 74,418 last night as the Barca faithful celebrated Xavi’s return to the club.
There was a buzz all around the city as the pubs and bars were brimming with locals who could not make it to the arena.
Barcelona fans are hopeful that Xavi will be the second coming of Pep Guardiola, leading the five-time European champions back to their glory days.
It is way too premature to make an educated guess about Xavi’s future impact at the club, but one thing is for sure that Barcelona fans have recovered their love for football upon Xavi’s arrival.
Observation 2: Use Of Wings
When was the last time you saw Barcelona channelling most of their attacks through both flanks?
If you have been following Barcelona regularly in recent years, you would know that Barcelona have not exploited their wings as much as they should since their outstanding 2015/16 campaign under Luis Enrique.
The role of wingers was clear to see last night.
Xavi deployed his wingers to unsettle the Espanyol defence, and they did a pretty good job of it.
Gavi and Ilias Akhomach occupied the wider areas in the first half. While Gavi impressed, Ilias performed in bits and starts, which is normal since it was the 17-year-olds first senior cap.
Xavi introduced Abde Ezzalzouli, another teenager, to replace Ilias in the second half.
Abde provided a livelier presence in the Barcelona attack and dangerously breached the Espanyol backline quite several times.
Both Gavi and Abde operated as classic wingers rather than acting as inside forwards.
Gavi had a game to remember as he won more duels and made more successful tackles than any other Barcelona player last night. On top of that, he also had a hand in Barcelona getting the penalty.
Abde tormented Espanyol defenders throughout the second half with his lightning-fast speed and ingenious feet work.
Observation 3: Senior Players Also Seemed Inspired
Barcelona is a team full of young talents at the moment, but no youthful side can develop properly without the seniors setting the standard.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique; all these players had been a shadow of their past selves under Koeman.
Ter Stegen’s fall from grace, in particular, seems incredibly staggering.
The German shot-stopper used to be in the ranks of the world’s best goalkeepers, only a few seasons back.
In recent times, however, he has been nowhere near that level.
Ter Stegen has conceded nine goals from the very first shot he faced this season, so one can imagine that his level of self-belief is not the highest currently.
But, the 29-year-old was instrumental in Barcelona claiming all three points as he made a string of fine saves.
Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique were also magnificent. Without a shred of a doubt, the presence of their former colleague in the dugout was revitalizing for them.
Observation 4: Barcelona Fell Fatigued In The End
Vicento Moreno’s Espanyol was on the back foot for most of the game, but after the seventy-minute mark, they had ample opportunities to draw the match level or even win it!
The high-press made Barca players fatigued, and they almost paid the price for it towards the dying stages of the game.
But, it was somewhat expected.
Under Koeman, Barcelona focused more on possession and the tempo was slower.
Possession is still one of the preferences, but Xavi wants his team to win the ball back as soon as possible.
So, we will be watching a more high-pressing Barcelona side under Xavi.
The transition will not be easy, of course.
It will take some time for the players to build endurance, and some will not fit the system.
Barcelona fans would hope that they will get to see a more energized Barcelona team
in the coming months after the players get used to this high-intensity brand of football.