La Liga: FC Barcelona 1-0 RCD Espanyol: Match Review

David Ramos

Recap of Barcelona hard fought 1-0 win over their city rivals, RCD Espanyol, in the first Catalan Derby of the 2013-14 La Liga season

FC Barcelona came out victorious in a frustrating Catalan derby that treated the fans with only one goal. It came midway through the second half when Neymar brilliantly found Alexis Sanchez who tipped the ball in from close range to secure the three points for the home side.


Barcelona


Espanyol


Possession


74%


26%


Total Shots


19


8


Shots on Target


5


2


Pass Accuracy


90%


66%


Fouls


7


19


Offsides


5


1


Yellow Cards


1


3


Red Cards


0


0


Tata Martino made no less than six personnel changes in the starting XI compared to the Tuesday night game versus Celta Vigo. Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano started in the heart of the defense while Martin Montoya replaced the injured Adriano Correia.Xavi and Andres Iniesta joined Sergio Busquets in midfield while Neymar returned to the starting lineup after being rested in Vigo.

The Catalan Derby started with Espanyol kicking off, but Barcelona quickly gained possession and started passing around the visitors' 10-man defense. However, Espanyol pressured the ball-carrier very well and caused Barcelona's backline plenty of problems on the counter with the speed of Thievy and Gabriel Torje.

Two early half-chances ("quarter-chances" actually) went Espanyol's way, but the first real scoring opportunity of the game came in the 7th , with Iniesta the creator. The midfielder found Alexis in plenty of space on the left side, but the Chilean's drive was punched out by Kiko Casilla. At that time Neymar was receiving some assistance on the sidelines, but with the dribble he exhibited a couple minutes later any worries of an injury were put to rest.

After some high pressure Espanyol then placed all eleven player in their own half when Barcelona had possession, and all but Sergio Garcia moved inside their 25-yard line when Barcelona progressed further up the pitch. Despite the lack of space Barcelona managed to create quite a few scoring chances. In the 16th minute it appeared that the Catalans were going to take the lead on a tip-in goal, but the linesman ruled that Dani Alves was offside, even though the replay (albeit from a poor angle) showed that the Brazilian was level with the Espanyol line.

Barcelona continued to buzz around the opposing penalty area, but struggled to break through the middle. Plenty of potential chances were created down the right side, where Lionel Messi and Alves combined excellently, but, in the first half, the Barcelona right-back couldn't get a single long- to mid-range cross in the danger area. He was, however, able to connect with his short passes, and one of them found Alexis who attempted a volley, that he connected poorly with and it didn't cause any danger to the keeper.

Espanyol didn't make their way into Barcelona's half until the half hour mark when Torje, on a quick counter, forced Victor Valdes to make his first save of the game. Then, after a Messi free kick that flew over the crossbar, Espanyol were gifted their best scoring chance of the half by Alves. The Brazilian made it look like he shielded Víctor Sánchez to give Valdes enough time to corral the loose ball, however, he didn't and the Espanyol midfielder was able to put one on net. Very alertly Valdes red the situation and dove to the ground to save the shot with his foot.

So, going into the last five minutes of the half, despite an enormous possession advantage (80%-20%) Barcelona only had one shot on goal, while Espanyol had two. Iniesta was able to level the teams in that category with a long range try in the 44th minute that was well saved by Casilla. Just seconds later, Alves ripped one from outside of the box that beat the goalkeeper, but struck the post to keep the teams tied in the score and shots on goal departments at halftime. That proved to be the last chance in the first part as the referee, Carlos Velasco Carballo, who somehow only showed a single yellow card, whistled a few seconds later to end the half.

After the restart Barcelona immediately went back on the attack, and quickly it could've been 1-0 for Barcelona. First Alves was able to send in a useful cross in the middle that just missed Alexis and Messi. A minute later Iniesta made his way near the six-yard box after two Espanyol defenders tripped each other up, but his shot was in the end blocked.

In the 54th minute Alves broke the trend and delivered another good cross into the area. However, unlike on the first one, Messi was able to get himself on the receiving end of it and headed the ball to the bottom corner, only to see it pushed away by the fully outstretched Casilla. Even Xavi was able to win a header in the box a couple minutes later, after a good combination by Alexis and Gerard Pique, but wasn't able to head it on goal.

Just after the one hour mark Neymar, who worked hard all game, but had little to show for at the time, curled a shot from the left side. It was a lovely try from 20-yards out that appeared destined for the far post, but it missed the goal by mere feet.

It started to look like it was going to be one of those nights when the team was going to create tons of chances, but won't be able to score. That changed in the 68th minute, five minutes after Thievy, who was excellent defensively, was forced off because of an injury, when Neymar started the attack with some of his magic. Facing the goal from the left side, Neymar was covered by two players, but he somehow, through two sets of legs, managed to get the ball to a wide open Alexis on the far post. Determined not to miss the easy chance Alexis slid in and beat the helpless Casilla for the opener.

Forced to open up, Espanyol became more active in attack, but that allowed more space to Barcelona. Alexis and Neymar especially excelled in the quick transition game, but Messi as well became even more involved in the action and won his side a free kick in a dangerous position in the 82nd minute. The Argentine took the kick himself, but just missed the goal.

Martino has become somewhat known to wait (too?) long to make substitutions, but in this game it took him even longer than usual to make the first change. He completed the first one in the 83rd minute, when Pedro replaced the goalscorer, Alexis. Then, in two minute intervals, Martino completed the remaining substitutions. First he took off Iniesta, who was replaced by Cesc Fabregas and then Marc Bartra took the place of Mascherano, who appeared to be slightly limping.

Just before the Barça's final substitution Pedro fired a shot from the edge of the box, but he wasn't able to put it past Casilla. That proved to be the last scoring opportunity either team would create, but not for the lack of trying on Barcelona's side. With the 1-0 win over their city rivals, Barcelona have extended their lead over Atletico Madrid back to four points, but the Madrid side haven't played their Round 12 match yet. They will do so on Sunday when they will hosts Athletic Bilbao.

Barça will now have five days off before their next game, the longest stretch since the international break. Barcelona will return to action on Wednesday when AC Milan will try upend Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the Champions League.

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