By Chima Azu
Xavi Hernandez reign as Barcelona coach will commence tomorrow night in the Catalan derby against in-form Espanyol at the Camp Nou. This game comes with a lot of “bad blood” being a local derby and it’s the first Catalan derby since Espanyol came back from relegation. The away side will go into this game with so much confidence looking at how depleted Barca is with injuries and their poor form. They will also have more believe after losing just once in their last 5 games and defeating Real Madrid in the process. Expectations will be high as Xavi’s arrival has brought a lot of positive vibes and Barca fans are optimistic that the team’s fortune will turnaround for good as their former legend takes over. Below are key areas the fans will be looking out for.
1. WHO WOULD BE IN HIS STARTING XI : It will be interesting to see which players will be commanding first team shirt as the new manager takes over the hot-seat at Barcelona. Though some of the regulars are injured, still fans would like to see if he would stick to the same players Koeman used or if he would give other fringe players like Riqui Puig, Umtiti, Lenglet and the likes more playing time.
2. WILL HE HAVE THE GUTS TO BENCH THE SENIOR PLAYERS : Senior players like Pique, Busquet,Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto were all former teammate of Xavi and obviously these players are no longer at their very best like they use to some years back. Will Xavi be bold enough to put them on the bench when they are underperforming ? That is left to be seen if he would be that brave.
3. PLAYERS REACTION WHEN GAMES ARE NOT GOING THEIR WAY : Barca have shown this season that when they go behind the spirit to fight back isn’t there. That was evident in their games against Bayern Munich and Benfica where they lost 3:0 each. More dishearting was against Celta Vigo when they led 3:0 at halftime but ended up drawing the game 3:3. In that game the players body language showed that they were dejected and could not hold on to the lead or even fight back. The team tends to lose confidence when things are not going their way. Even if they want to lose, it is expected that they lose with a fight. Culers as Barca fans are fondly called will be expecting that this situation will change under Xavi.
4. WILL HE BRING BACK THE TIKI TAKA : Barcelona’s trademark is playing tiki taka which is all about keeping possession and playing beautiful football, a style which was introduced by Johan Cruyff and has brought the team huge success over the years. Being a student of this football philosophy it is expected that Xavi will apply such style as the coach and bring back that seductive playing style that made Barca the team to beat few years back.
5. HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE BEFORE THE RESULTS START COMING : Xavi’s appointment has got Barca fans dreaming again and many have already started to compare him to Pep Guardiola. But will the fans be patient with him when the results are not instant ? Pep could not win his first two games in charge and a lot of criticism started to pour in from the fans and media. Will the fans get to understand that this team will need a lot of time to get back to what it used to be ? One thing is sure, Xavi will be judged based on results regardless of being a former legend or not. How soon will those desired results start coming ? Only time will tell.