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The Xavi era is off to a winning start! And in the local derby, no less. Barça put an end to a run of four games without a win in La Liga by seeing of Espanyol at Camp Nou. The three points are a massive boost to the team’s league position, and also a huge shot of morale going into Tuesday’s crunch European fixture against Benfica.
Barça were especially dominant in the first half, in which they failed to turn the one-way traffic unto goals, and finally took the lead through Memphis from the penalty spot.
It was only after going a goal down that the visitors started to create much real danger of their own, but as the game progressed there were some heart-stopping moments as they came close to equalising on a number of occasions. But Barça managed to hold off the fight-back, and have now extended their record unbeaten run in Liga derbies to 23 games.
Camp Nou on fine song
Even before kick-off, it was easy to appreciate there was a very different buzz around the Camp Nou today. Derby day is always party day, but when it’s also the homecoming of somebody like Xavi, then it was always going to be that bit more special.
And there was a fresh look to Barça’s football too. It was the typical possession game we have come to expect, but it all felt a lot less predictable than it has done for much of the season. Imaginative passing, always with eye to creating chances, and Espanyol spent almost the entire first half pegged back in their own half – their role limited to spoiling the Barça magic rather than creating much of their own.
But the parakeets were remarkably effective at doing so, and the home side struggled to turn their dominance into much to truly trouble Diego Lopez in the Espanyol goal.
The surprise inclusion in Xavi’s starting XI was 17-year-old Ilias Akhomach, who had the clearest chance of the half, although the flag was up for offside.
Memphis from the spot
Following the break it only took moments for Barça to finally gain a well-merited lead. Memphis was brought down in the area, and the Dutchman took the ensuring penalty. It was finely converted and the blaugrana were at last a goal to the good.
The more the game progressed, the more we were seeing of Espanyol. After conceding a goal they really did start causing trouble. Raul de Tomas, looking to score in his sixth consecutive game, was an especially worrying presence every time the blue-and-whites came forward.
The closing minutes were especially nervy for Barça, when Espanyol will feel unfortunate not to have equalised. De Tomas hit the woodwork twice, Landry Dimata inexplicably missed a header from point-blank range and Wu Lei also forgave Barça in a goalmouth scramble right at the end.
Moments of concern at the end, and final whistle was a welcome sound. Three points in the bag. Next up, Benifca… Força Barça.
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