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La Liga: RCD Espanyol 0-2 FC Barcelona: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's 2-0 derby victory over Espanyol at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat, as goals from Alexis Sanchez and Pedro moved the Blaugrana within three points of equalling Real Madrid's 100 point record

David Ramos

Barcelona moved to within three points of Real Madrid’s La Liga record tonight, comfortably defeating city rivals Espanyol 2-0 at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat. Alexis Sánchez opened the scoring for the Blaugrana with an excellent finish, after a superb combination with David Villa, and Pedro wrapped up the three points with a clinical finish on the 86th minute after a great pass from fellow substitute Xavi Hernández.






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With the 100 point milestone still very much within reach, Tito Vilanova selected a strong line-up for Barcelona’s trip to the Estadi Cornella-El Prat. Cesc Fàbregas started in attack, alongside Alexis Sánchez and David Villa, while Thiago started in midfield, with Alex Song and Andrés Iniesta in support. Dani Alves returned from injury to start at right-back, but aside from that, it was an unchanged backline for the Blaugrana – meaning that Javier Mascherano started for the second consecutive week after spending six weeks on the sideline with a knee injury. Would Barça be able to register their third successive Catalan derby win, or would Espanyol end Tito Vilanova’s hopes of equalling Jose Mourinho’s 100 point record?

The atmosphere was electric – despite the guard of honour – and Espanyol tried to match that enthusiasm with a good start of their own. Their pressure resulted in an early chance for the hosts, and unsurprisingly, it was a set-piece that caused the Blaugrana some problems. Taken quickly – and smartly – Joan Verdu floated the ball into the heart of the Barcelona penalty area, and found Sergio Garcia unmarked by the penalty spot, but the cross was just too high for the Catalan, who headed the early chance over Victor Valdés’ crossbar.

Barcelona recovered, and in truth, Espanyol made it relatively easy for them to do so. Despite creating that early "chance", Aguirre’s side didn’t commit too many players found, weary of being caught out at the other end. As a result, Barcelona were able to exert control of possession – and ultimately, the match as a whole – even translating that early dominance of possession into a one-goal lead. There had been warning signs for the Espanyol defense, as Alexis Sánchez had nearly converted a Dani Alves cross in the ninth minute (but the Chilean was flagged for offside, and stereotypically wasted the chance anyway), but Sánchez didn’t make the same mistake five minutes later when he was presented with an excellent chance by David Villa.

Exchanging a one-two with his strike partner, Alexis cut inside from the left-hand side of attack and displayed superb close control to corral Villa’s return pass, before following up his chest control with an equally fantastic finish, caressing the ball into the far corner of Cristian Alvarez’ net. Fourteen minutes had been played at the Cornella-el Prat, and Barça were ahead, courtesy of Sánchez’ 11th goal of the season.

The goal prompted Espanyol into action; now they were a goal behind the hosts decided to press the Blaugrana – forcing a couple of small errors at the defensive end. Needless concessions of possession, cheap set-pieces; the Barcelona backline was clearly a little flustered by this pressure without the composure of either Sergio Busquets or Xavi in midfield – but Espanyol couldn’t capitalise. Aside from Raul Rodriguez’ wild effort from long-range, Espanyol couldn’t even get off a shot, let alone trouble Victor Valdés. And at the other end, Espanyol were just a few inches away from conceding their second of the evening.

Alex Song was the creator, lifting a diagonal through ball over the last line of defense to find the run of former Arsenal teammate, Cesc Fàbregas. It was a pass that Arsenal fans saw often from Song last season, with many resulting in a goal – and we could have seen another tonight, if not for the frame of Alvarez’ goal. Perhaps Cesc Fàbregas should have done better? His connection certainly wasn’t as clean as he might have hoped – but it was a tough chance for the midfielder.

Espanyol finally registered their first shot on target just a minute later, as Diego Colotto forced a comfortable save out of Victor Valdés – but it was a mere blip for the Blaugrana who resumed their domination by creating a couple of late chances in the first-half. The first would have made for a spectacular goal, as Cesc Fàbregas attempted to turn in Dani Alves’ cross with an acrobatic volley (even if he missed dismally, it was a nice try from Fàbregas) and the second was equally impressive – this time for all the right reasons, as Andrés Iniesta came desperately close to scoring a sensational curling effort. However, despite their best efforts, the Blaugrana only went in at the break with a one goal lead. Could Espanyol stage an unlikely second-half comeback?

Espanyol started the second half in a similar fashion to the first – taking the game to the Blaugrana in the early stages, before Barça ultimately took control once again. Cristian Stuani wasted a half-chance just a few minutes into the second-half, firing high and wide after a pass from Javi Lopez; before David Villa (of all people) missed an easy chance to double Barcelona’s lead. It was a glaring miss from El Guaje – who has scored just one goal in the past two months. No wonder Barcelona were so keen to secure the signing of Neymar...

Villa tried to make amends for his miss a few minutes later – in similar fashion to Cesc Fàbregas’ acrobatic volley, with identical results – and missed yet another chance on 71 minutes, as Alvarez stood tall in the centre of the goal to deny Villa’s close-range right-footed effort. Well, when it isn’t your night, I guess it really isn’t your night. With rumours of a possible summer exit, that might be the final time we see Villa in an away fixture for Barcelona – as Pedro replaced El Guaje with less than twenty minutes to play.

Espanyol, who also took that opportunity to make a change of their own (former Barça player Simao replaced another former Barça player, Victor Sánchez), were still in the game, but with the clock winding down, their chances of salvaging a draw were fading fast. And thanks to a moment of indiscipline from Wakaso, those chances faded completely in the 81st minute. Reacting to a foul on Alexis Sánchez, Wakaso (who had already committed three fouls without repercussion) proceeded to argue with the referee, picking up a yellow card for his troubles. Usually, that would be the end of it, but for whatever reason, Wakaso continued to argue – and picked up a second yellow card for his persistence. Espanyol were down to ten men, and Barcelona sensed that this was their chance to secure the three points.

On came Cristian Tello and Xavi Hernández, with Alexis Sánchez and Andrés Iniesta the players to make way – and within moments, Xavi made an impact, teeing up Pedro for Barcelona’s second goal of the evening. It was a perfect pass from Barça’s midfield maestro, and a great finish from Pedro, who has now scored in successive La Liga matches for the first time since January. Ultimately, that would be the last real piece of action in the match; Barcelona picked up another three points, marching closer to the 100 point milestone – and kept a rare clean sheet in the process. Alexis Sánchez scored, Pedro scored, and Neymar has signed – all in all, I’d say it’s been a productive weekend for the Blaugrana.

Next weekend, Barcelona host Malaga in the final match of the 2012-13 La Liga season, but until then, Visca el Barça!

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