Acontroversial Memphis Depay penalty and a slice of good luck earned new Barcelona boss Xavi Hernandez a 1-0 victory against Espanyol in his first game in charge on Saturday night at the Camp Nou.
Memphis fired home a spot-kick early in the second half after a penalty was whistled for Barcelona, a call that will surely make the media rounds in Spain and beyond this week, to give the hosts a full three points against their city rivals.
Espanyol will surely feel hard done by after hitting the post twice and missing another clear scoring occasion in the second half.
Xavi had remarked in his pre-match press conference that there might be a wrinkle or two in his starting XI, and that came to pass with the inclusion of 17-year-old Ilias up top with Gavi and Memphis.
It was a very bright start for Barcelona, with Xavi’s men putting pressure on the Espanyol defence and peppering Los Periquitos’ goal with efforts from Memphis and Sergio Busquets.
They were lacking the finishing product though and then were almost punished for some slack defending when Raul de Tomas put Oscar Mingueza through the rinse cycle and nearly scored.
There was one change during intermission, as Abde came on to replace fellow youngster Ilias and just seconds later referee Carlos del Cerro Grande was pointing to the spot after Memphis went down in the area. Espanyol argued fervently against the call, with Leandro Cabrera clearly making contact with the ball, but in the end the penalty stood and Memphis hammered home the spot-kick for a 1-0 Barcelona lead.
The controversial penalty call sparked Espanyol more to life and De Tomas had it all there to equalise off a misplay from Mingueza from a long free-kick from former Barcelona man Aleix Vidal, only to see the Spain international slice his shot wide.
Xavi went back to his bench, bringing on Philippe Coutinho for Gavi and then later on Riqui Puig for Busquets, but it was De Tomas who was the most dangerous player on the pitch and he came within a whisker of a leveller via a free-kick that grazed the post.
However, it was a golden opportunity for Dimata that served as Espanyol’s best chance at a goal when he was all alone in front of goal, but instead steered his header wide, much to the exasperation of his teammates.
The Camp Nou went from nervous to full on anxious in the closing minutes, punctuated by another De Tomas crack at goal, this time on a header that caromed off the post.
Late injuries forced Nico and Mingueza to give way, with Demir and Ronald Araujo each summoned by the new boss, as Barcelona suffered in the final minutes but managed to drag themselves across the finish line to earn Xavi a winning debut.
1.- Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Mingueza (Araujo, min. 88), Pique, Eric Garcia, Jordi Alba; Busquets (Riqui Puig, min. 78), Nico (Demir, min. 88), De Jong; Gavi (Coutinho, min. 70), Memphis, Ilias Akhomach (Abde, min. 46).
0.- Espanyol: Diego Lopez; Aleix Vidal, Sergi Gomez, Cabrera, Pedrosa; David Lopez (Morlanes, min. 56), Sergi Darder (Moron, min. 95), Herrera (Dimata, min. 77); Embarba (Wu Lei, min. 78), Puado (Melamed, min. 56), Raul de Tomas.
Goals: 1-0, min. 48: Memphis (p).
Referee: Del Cerro Grande (Madrid).
Yellow cards: Abde (Min. 59) for Barcelona, Pedrosa (Min. 59) for Espanyol, Mingueza (Min. 64) for Barcelona, De Jong (Min. 83) for Barcelona, Ter Stegen (Min. 88) for Barcelona, Cabrera (Min. 93) for Espanyol.
Red cards: None.