FC Barcelona

Barcelona 1-0 Espanyol: Player ratings as Xavi era begins with a win

Sean Walsh
Memphis Depay scored the only goal
Memphis Depay scored the only goal / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages
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Xavi got off to a winning start as Barcelona's new head coach as the Blaugrana defeated city rivals Espanyol 1-0 on Saturday night.

Nearly 75,000 people crammed into Camp Nou to witness Xavi's homecoming - around double the amount of spectators for Barcelona's last home game in La Liga.

Memphis Depay went close to giving Barça the perfect start when he had a half-volley parried away by former Real Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the opening exchanges.

Debutant Ilias Akhomach had a great chance to give Barça the lead after 13 minutes when Jordi Alba picked him out from a low cross, but his effort was wayward and Espanyol were let off the hook.

Diego Lopez - just one year younger than Xavi - then played the ball straight to Nico Gonzalez from a goal kick, but the youngster's touch was loose and the ball evaded him, failing to win a penalty following contact from defender David Lopez.

Nico had a shot blocked before Memphis was denied from close range by Diego Lopez as Barcelona continued to dominate.

Sergio Busquets was next in line to test the Espanyol stopper, who produced another top save to keep the scores level.

New Spain international Raul de Tomas nearly gave the visitors the lead against the run of play when his low cross was deflected towards goal by Gerard Pique, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen was on hand to tip it over the top.

Barcelona were awarded a penalty almost immediately following the interval when Gavi slipped through Memphis, and the Netherlands international was brought down by David Lopez. Replays showed that the defender clearly got the ball and that the striker slowly ambled into the challenge, but the decision was somehow allowed to stand.

Memphis stepped up to take the spot kick and converted to score the first goal of the Xavi era.

Adria Pedrosa had to be alert to clear Abde Ezzalzouli's cross-cum-shot off the line before Frenkie de Jong had a goal ruled out for offside, with Barcelona clearly still in the ascendancy despite Espanyol's increased intensity.

Ter Stegen easily punched away Adrian Embarba's tame free kick on one of Espanyol's rare ventures deep into the Barcelona half, but they should have been level when De Tomas stole the ball from a retreating Oscar Mingueza. However, his shot sailed wide of the Barça goal and they were let off the hook.

After being awarded an incredibly soft penalty earlier in the half, Memphis was denied a second spot kick after going down under minimal contact in the area again.

19-year-old Ezzalzouli again showed his ingenuity to wrestle his way into the box with the ball at his feet, but his looping effort at the end of his flamboyant went just over the bar.

Espanyol threw on striker Wu Lei in search of an equaliser, but it was De Tomas who nearly spoiled the party Camp Nou atmosphere when his free kick rattled the outside of the post.

And the away side should have been level when Lei's floated ball fell to Landry Dimata just outside the six-yard box, yet somehow he couldn't keep his free header on target.

De Tomas struck the woodwork again as Espanyol threw the kitchen sink at their fierce rivals, who were quickly becoming the walking wounded when both Nico and Mingueza were forced off with injuries.

But Barcelona survived six minutes of stoppage time to ensure Xavi's return to Catalonia was a winning one.


FC Barcelona player ratings

1. Goalkeeper & defenders

Xavi Hernandez, Gerard Pique
Pique's head coach is his friend first, boss second...probably entertainer third / David Ramos/GettyImages

Marc-Andre ter Stegen (GK) - 6/10 - Dealt with whatever was thrown his way. Came under fire for choosing not to catch anything.

Oscar Mingueza (RB) - 3/10 - You can see why Barcelona brought back Dani Alves. Mingueza is a centre-back by trade and was uncomfortable in wide areas.

Gerard Pique (CB) - 5/10 - Looked a bit leggy in stretches and played Dimata onside for his clear chance in the late stages.

Eric Garcia (CB) - 7/10 - Strong in the challenge and confident in possession. Much more reliable than Pique.

Jordi Alba (LB) - 7/10 - As marauding as ever down the left flank.

2. Midfielders

Sergio Busquets
Busquets was imperious / Alex Caparros/GettyImages

Sergio Busquets (DM) - 7/10 - Understood Xavi's repeated instructions and was unlucky not to grab a goal or assist.

Frenkie de Jong (CM) - 6/10 - A decent performance but played a bit more like the teenagers than the experienced cohort of Barça stars, sloppily giving the ball away in dangerous areas.

Nico Gonzalez (CM) - 7/10 - Always keen on being involved. Roamed forward plenty and created a few decent openings.

3. Forwards

Memphis Depay, Leandro Cabrera, Diego Lopez
Memphis was fortunate to win a penalty / David Ramos/GettyImages

Ilias Akhomach (RW) - 6/10 - Showed signs of promise on his senior debut. It's clear that Xavi wants to build a team with direct wingers. Substituted at half time.

Memphis Depay (CF) - 7/10 - Was dangerous dropping deep and running in behind, though could probably do with remaining onside a bit more.

Gavi (LW) - 8/10 - His impressive start to the season continued, wriggling between tight spaces and playing clever passes.

4. Substitutes

Abde Ezzalzouli (RW) - 7/10 - Much like Akhomach showed real intensity and fearlessness, with a little bit more end product and threat in the penalty area.

Philippe Coutinho (LW) - 6/10

Riqui Puig (CM) - 5/10

Yusuf Demir (CM) - N/A

Ronald Araujo (RB) - N/A

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