Barcelona 1-0 Espanyol: Xavi Hernandez begins Nou Camp reign with narrow derby victory after Memphis Depay scores controversial second-half penalty
Twice as many Barcelona supporters turned up to watch Xavi’s first game in charge, as attended Ronald Koeman’s last match and the new man got a little beginner’s luck to win the Catalan derby.
Memphis Depay scored the first goal of the new era with a penalty he had been awarded after he went down over a challenge from Leandro Cabrera. The contact was somewhere between minimal and non-existent but referee Carlos del Cerro Grande pointed to the spot and the decision stood.
Memphis, who had been put through brilliantly by the outstanding Gavi, scored to give Barcelona a lead their far greater ambition deserved. They could also point to a possible penalty in the first half, with David Garcia stepping on Nico, that was not given.
Xavi Hernandez started his Barcelona managerial career with a derby win on Saturday
The 19-year-old midfielder, 17-year-old Gabi and 18-year-old substitute Abdessamad Ezzalzouli were the high points.
But there were shortcomings too: not least that they needed the favourable decision to score. Benfica on Tuesday still looks a massive challenge for the current group.
For now, they will want to concentrate on the positives. The players arrived together on orders from the new boss – for the first time since 2019 – and were greeted by thousands at the gates of the stadium. Inside the attendance had shot up to 74.418 double that last home game under Koeman.
They chanted Xavi’s name before kick-off and on six minutes to mark his old shirt number. And they saw the team pepper Diego Lopez’ goal with 11 first half shots.
New Barca boss talks to Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets during Sunday’s LaLiga clash
The first chance came when Frenkie de Jong headed back to Memphis and his shot was saved.
On the quarter-hour there were two big decisions to make for referee Del Cerro Grande. First Espanyol keeper Diego Lopez bowled the ball out to David Garcia who was robbed by Nico. The Barcelona midfielder went down when trod on by the recovering defender but there was no penalty given.
Espanyol attacked immediately and Raul de Tomas went down after feeling Pique’s flailing arm in his face but there was no card either and both sets of players surrounded the referee to protest one of the two decisions.
Memphis Depay scored the winner from the penalty spot in the 48th minute
Memphis tested Diego Lopez with a shot to his near post and 17-year-old Ilias Akhomach, who had started ahead of Barcelona’s record signing Philippe Coutinho and Gavi linked but up the latter could finish from the cross.
Espanyol’s greatest threat came from Raul de Tomas and one shot from him that deflected off of Pique and spun just over Marc Andre ter Stegen’s bar was the closest they came in the first half.
They had two clear-cut chances late on. First, Landry Dimata headed wide all alone in front of Ter Stegen’s goal from Wu Lei’s cross. Then De Tomas headed onto the post. Barcelona had tired late on. Whistles greeted the news of six minutes added. Against a better side they would have paid a greater price for the fatigue but with Abdessamad still running at Espanyol to give the home side’s defence respite, things ended well for Xavi.
After 767 games as a player this was his first match as Barça coach and winning the derby in an almost full stadium was a great way to start. Now for the task of keeping Barcelona in the Champions League against Benfica on Tuesday. This narrow win will only have underlined how tough that will be.
Dutch forward went down under a challenge from Espanyol goalkeeper Leandro Cabrera
Depay sent Espanyol goalkeeper Cabrera the wrong way to convert from 12 yards