A new era begins at Barcelona this weekend as they gear up for their first game under new manager Xavi Hernandez when they host local rivals Espanyol.

Barcelona will be hoping to kickstart the Xavi Hernandez era on a winning note when they lock horns with Espanyol in the Catalan derby at Camp Nou on Saturday night.

Having sacked Ronald Koeman towards the end of the last month, Barcelona had named Sergi Barjuan as their interim manager, under whom they failed to win both their La Liga matches, most notably yielding a three-goal lead to be held to a 3-3 draw before the international break. As a result, they are ninth in the table, 11 points off of league leaders Real Sociedad.

So, Xavi will have a huge task at his hand to turn around the fortunes at Camp Nou, with the microscope firmly on him as he looks to get Barcelona’s season back on track. And, a derby contest against Espanyol will be anything but straightforward for the 41-year-old’s first assignment in charge of one of the most prestigious clubs in the world.

Espanyol, for their part, are faring decently after returning to La Liga. Currently 11th in the table, they have lost just one of their last six games – a run that includes a win against Real Madrid while they defeated Granada 2-0 in their most recent fixture. With just two points separating them and Barcelona, a victory on Saturday would see them move past their local rivals and level with sixth-placed Rayo Vallecano.

Ahead of this much-anticipated Catalan derby coming our way from Camp Nou, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Barcelona

Barcelona will again be without the services of Martin Braithwaite, Ousmane Dembele, Ansu Fati and Sergio Aguero. At the same time, new signing Dani Alves is ineligible to play for the Catalans until January. Pedri has suffered another setback on his recovery trail and is set to miss out as well, while Sergino Dest remains a doubt too.

Xavi has stressed that he will set his team up to play a possession-based attacking football with Barcelona expected to revert to the Cruyffismo philosophy. It will be interesting to see how the current crop of players adapts to the shift in tactics. The Catalans will set up in a trademark 4-3-3 formation in front of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Gerard Pique and Eric Garcia ought to line up as the centre-backs flanked by Oscar Mingueza and Jordi Alba as full-backs on the right and left sides. The latter will have a key role to play with his forward forays on the left-hand side, especially with Mingueza likely to be more conservative on the opposite wing.

Captain Sergio Busquets will sit at the base of the midfield and act as the conduit between the attack and the defence while also being alert to cut out any counter-attacking attempts from the visitors. Gavi and Frenkie de Jong are likely to occupy the remaining two midfield slots, with Nico Gonzalez likely to be held back after suffering an injury scare in the previous game.

Barcelona B starlet Abde Ezzalzouli could be in line to make his full debut on Saturday, given that Xavi has stressed the importance of having natural wingers in his setup. The teenager ought to line up on the right flank while Memphis Depay gets the nod on the left, with Luuk de Jong starting as the centre-forward.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Mingueza, Pique, Garcia, Alba; de Jong, Busquets, Gavi; Abde, L. de Jong, Depay

Espanyol

Manager Vicente Moreno does not have a lot of injury concerns to tend to ahead of Saturday’s game, with Oscar Gil and Keidi Bare the only players expected to miss out for Espanyol. The visitors should line up in their usual 4-1-4-1 setup, with the team likely to focus on defensive discipline and organization while trying to hit Barcelona on the break.

40-year-old Diego Lopez will man the goal for Espanyol, where he will be shielded by the centre-back pairing of Sergi Gomez and Leandro Cabrera. Former Barcelona star Aleix Vidal should line up at right-back while in-form left-back Adria Pedrosa is a certain starter on the opposite side.

With Bare ruled out, Yangel Herrera is likely to move into the defensive midfield slot, where he will be tasked with keeping a check on Barcelona’s runners from the centre. He will have support from Manu Morlanes and Sergi Darder, both of whom will also be responsible for providing attacking impetus when Espanyol drive forward.

Adrian Embarba and Javi Puado ought to be the two wide players who will look to put the Barcelona full-backs under pressure with their pace and directness and hope to create an ample number of chances for striker Raul de Tomas.

Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Lopez; Vidal, Gomez, Cabrera, Pedrosa; Herrera; Embarba, Darder, Morlanes, Puado; de Tomas

Key Stats

  • Barcelona have not lost any of their last 22 matches against Espanyol in La Liga (W17 D5). They have kept 16 clean sheets in this run.
  • Espanyol have drawn 38 games against Barcelona in La Liga (W34 L100), more than against any other opponent in the history of the competition.
  • Barcelona have collected just 17 points from their first 12 games in La Liga this season – their second-lowest tally at this point of a campaign in the 21st century.
  • Espanyol have won three of their last six games in La Liga (D2 L1), as many as in their previous 25 matches in the competition.
  • Barcelona star Jordi Alba has four assists in La Liga this season, including three in his last two games.

Player to Watch

Memphis Depay

The 27-year-old has been in scintillating form for the Netherlands national team of late but hasn’t been able to achieve the same sort of success with Barcelona, despite starting on a positive note at Camp Nou. But with the likes of Ansu Fati, Sergio Aguero, Ousmane Dembele all missing from action, there will be a lot of responsibility riding on the shoulders of Depay in Saturday’s game.

 Xavi and Barcelona will need the Dutchman to step up and deliver if the Catalans are to end their four-game winless run in La Liga.

Prediction

Barcelona 2-0 Espanyol

Espanyol have done well since earning promotion back to La Liga. And given Barcelona’s recent struggles, they will back themselves to go to Camp Nou and cause an upset. However, the Blaugrana, despite their recent results, are in a buoyant mood following the appointment of Xavi Hernandez and the arrival of Dani Alves. Expect the case of the new manager bounce to make its presence felt on Saturday, with Barca likely to pick up a much-needed win.

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