La Liga: FC Barcelona 4-0 Espanyol: Match Review

It was great to see Tito back on the bench - David Ramos

A review of Barcelona's comfortable 4-0 El Derbi win over Espanyol

FC Barcelona outplayed Catalan rivals Espanyol in their first match of 2013, running out comfortable 4-0 winners at the Camp Nou. With Tito Vilanova back on the bench, Barcelona looked to be back to their clinical best as an early goal from Xavi was followed up by a first-half brace from Pedro Rodriguez and a penalty from Lionel Messi. Despite racing to a four-goal lead within the opening half-hour of the game, Barcelona couldn’t add to their tally in the second-half – not that it mattered.

Barcelona

Espanyol

Possession

78%

22%

Total Shots

19

5

Shots on Target

8

1

Pass Accuracy

91%

65%

Fouls

3

17

Offsides

5

3

Yellow Cards

0

4

Red Cards

0

0

Tito Vilanova – returning to the bench for the first time since undergoing surgery to remove a tumour – selected arguably the strongest XI available for the visit of Espanyol, meaning that Andrés Iniesta started on the left-hand side of attack allowing Cesc Fàbregas to reclaim his place in midfield after a month on the sidelines. In defense, Dani Alves started at right-back ahead of Adriano, who missed training this week with a twisted ankle. Would the Blaugrana be able to start 2013 with a win in El Derbi?

You better believe it. Barcelona started well, keeping possession as one might expect, but crucially they were working the Espanyol defense at every available opportunity. Moving the ball from one side of the pitch to the other to find even the smallest of openings, it wasn’t long before Barca started to create chances. With five minutes on the clock, Dani Alves characteristically pulled a right-footed shot wide following a predictably harmless corner kick. It was a wasteful effort from the Brazilian, but Barcelona would soon make amends by taking the lead through Xavi.

It was an outstanding team goal, and Xavi started the play with a nice pass out wide to Dani Alves. Alves worked it back inside to Sergio Busquets, who found Lionel Messi in space. Just like Xavi did moments earlier, Messi moved the ball out wide, this time to Andrés Iniesta who was making a nice run down the left-hand touchline. Taking a touch to set himself, Iniesta fired in a low cross to find Xavi, who turned the ball home after an exceptional, late run to move into position in the six-yard box.

Within five minutes, Barcelona doubled their lead, and they did so in admittedly unusual circumstances as Pedro inadvertently got himself back on the score-sheet. It was great work from Cesc Fàbregas, who did well to work enough space to drive to the byline, and Cesc also did excellently to find Lionel Messi with a cut-back. The Argentine directed a shot, seemingly destined for the bottom corner of the net, and that’s where the ball ended up too, but only after the deftest of touches from Pedro. It was his first goal for Barcelona since August and the second leg of the Supercopa, and naturally, Pedro looked delighted.

When you have gone so long without a goal, I guess you wouldn’t really mind how you got on the score-sheet, but Pedro probably would have preferred a more "traditional" goal. Something a little more individual perhaps, and with the confidence boost from his first, he quickly added to his tally by lifting the ball over Kiko Casilla after a jaw-dropping assist from Sergio Busquets.

Barcelona were really beginning to hit top gear now, and Espanyol just couldn’t cope. As quickly as you could say "que golazo", Barcelona had created another goal with Cesc Fàbregas drawing a foul out of Casilla in the area. Up stepped Lionel Messi, who duly dispatched the penalty for his first goal of 2013. We had played less than a third of the game at the Camp Nou, and Barcelona were already four goals to the good. It was as good as game over for Espanyol; the only question remaining was whether Barca would add to their lead.

Neither manager made a change at the break, although Espanyol came out with an improved attitude and even managed to keep the score down after some atrocious defending in the first half. Gerard Piqué continued to impress in the heart of defense, playing his way out of trouble at one end, and threatening Casilla at the other as Barcelona appeared to "settle" for their healthy lead. Content to play it safe, Barcelona worked the ball around, but still looked to capitalise on any clear-cut openings. Thiago Alcântara replaced Xavi in the first Blaugrana substitution of the night, and minutes later, Pedro looked to have completed his hat-trick with a tap-in after selfless play from Cesc Fàbregas, but the assistant (incorrectly) flagged for offside.

David Villa was brought on for Fàbregas soon after and tested Casilla with virtually his first touch of the night, but unfortunately his effort was rather tame and caused Espanyol no real trouble. Pedro then appeared to complete his hat-trick (again), but once again the assistant flagged for offside. Unfortunately for Pedro, it was another incorrect decision, and robbed of his third goal of the night, Pedro was soon withdrawn for Alexis Sánchez.

Lionel Messi rattled the crossbar with a staggering long-range free-kick with a little under ten minutes to play, and had another opportunity after a nasty challenge from Hector Moreno felled Thiago, but this time he couldn’t hit the target in what turned out to be the final chance od the match.

Next up, Barcelona host Segunda side Cordoba in the second-leg of their Copa del Rey round of 16 clash, with a 2-0 aggregate lead after the first leg. Until then, Visca el Barca!

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