"Six years in Qatar have been a long time coming," admit Xavi Hernández's closest friends, while pointing out that returning to the Camp Nou in November and ninth in La Liga was not the scenario they had dreamed of, but they are all convinced that the gamble will be worth it. "Xavi has only been thinking about returning to Barça since he left. I'm sure that against Espanyol we will see a different Barça. More offensive and above all more confident. Focused on dominating and enjoying the game", stresses Joan Vilà, former FC Barcelona youth football coordinator who worked almost all his life at La Masia and who was the key coach in Xavi's growth, with whom he continued to work in the football elite.
There, Vilà witnessed that Espanyol was an opponent he was particularly good at. With 36 games in his 767 official matches as a Blaugrana, Xavi is the player in history who has played in the most Barcelona derbies between La Liga, Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup. He won 25 times, drew on nine occasions and lost twice, in the 2006-2007 campaign at Montjuïc and in 2008-2009 at Camp Nou. The Blue and Whites are also the team Xavi has scored the most goals against, with a total of six, one more than against Real Madrid. Five were in La Liga and the other in the 2006 Spanish Super Cup win.
Now, 23 years after playing his first derby as a player and six years after his last, the Terrassa native will make his debut on the Barça bench against the Blue and Whites. An added incentive for the man from Terrassa. "It's a coincidence. But it is true that derbies have a special component that can help, especially for those who come from the Masia. Espanyol is undoubtedly the toughest rival in Barça's youth ranks," adds Vilà, who is convinced that Xavi's first eleven will include players from the youth academy "because he has always valued them a lot. He's a football nut. He's capable of watching replays of Segunda B or cadet matches at 12 o'clock at night. He knows them well".
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