Xavi Hernandez makes his debut as FC Barcelona coach on Saturday when his side entertains local rivals Espanyol in the Camp Nou Stadium.
The former midfielder has been busy since being confirmed as the long-term replacement for Ronald Koeman almost two weeks ago, although the amount of work he has been able to carry out has been limited to an extent by having players away due to the international break.
However, he has quickly laid down the law in the dressing room with a limit on ‘extra-curricular’ activities and established his authority on the squad.
“We have tried to implant our ideas on the players who have stayed here and look at Espanyol. We haven’t had many days to work together, but a lot of the players already knew our way of thinking,” said Xavi in his pre-game press conference, reports Xinhua.
“We have to show sacrifice and the talent will shine through, we have to be a team together and our home ground has to be our fortress,” he added.
Xavi promised “aggressive” football with “high pressing” during his presentation as Barca coach, but his options on Saturday are still limited by Barca’s long injury list.
Pedri, Ousmane Dembele, Martin Braithwaite and Ansu Fati are all certain to miss out and Kun Aguero is also not available as he continues with tests over a possible heart condition. Meanwhile Sergi Roberto, Nico Gonzalez, Gerard Pique and Eric Garcia all have a question mark over their fitness ahead of Saturday, although some may play.
Dani Alves is unlikely to make the side as the veteran right-back needs to pick up match fitness after his surprise return to the club. However, even though Alves won’t play, his arrival seems to highlight the upturn in atmosphere surrounding the club since Koeman’s departure.
Young defender Oscar Mingueza, who was given his debut by the Dutch coach, commented this week that Koeman had lost the confidence of the dressing room and it’s clear he had lost the support of the fans, who have struggled to half-fill the Camp Nou Stadium this season, despite the lowering of coronavirus restrictions.
“We have to control our emotions. It is a derby and there will be tension and nerves. I have told the players we have to compete and control the situations of the game. There are a lot of details, but we want to start well,” explained Xavi, who also made a call for the fans to get behind the team.
The ground will be much closer to full on Saturday night as Barca fans hope to see their season start turning around, although Barca will have to keep an eye on Espanyol striker Raul de Tomas, who is the top-scoring Spaniard in LaLiga with seven goals.
Wu Lei will also hope to get the chance to play after celebrating his 30th birthday on Friday.