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La Liga: FC Barcelona 5-1 RCD Espanyol: Match Review

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A recap of Barcelona's emphatic derby day win over city rivals RCD Espanyol at the Camp Nou, as yet another Lionel Messi hat-trick helped guarantee a seventh successive victory for the Blaugrana

Alex Caparros/Getty Images

FC Barcelona bounced back from a deplorable first-half display at the Camp Nou on Sunday evening to eventually overwhelm their city rivals RCD Espanyol in the first Catalan derby of the season, as a third Lionel Messi hat-trick in his past four matches helped secure the three points for the Blaugrana. It all started so ominously as well. Sergio Garcia’s one-man counter-attack yielded an opener for the visitors and Barça struggled for the remainder of the half.

However, Messi’s well-timed equaliser just on the stroke of half-time helped restore Barça’s confidence before his second turned the tides on the 50 minute mark. Gerard Piqué doubled Barcelona’s advantage minutes later before Pedro scored and provided an assist to Messi’s hat-trick. The three points in the bag, Barça move back into second place in La Liga, just two points behind league leaders, Real Madrid.

Barcelona

Espanyol

Possession

79%

21%

Total Shots

15

3

Shots on Target

7

2

Corners

5

2

Fouls

6

11

Offsides

7

0

Yellow Cards

0

4

Red Cards

0

0

No real surprises on the selection front from Luis Enrique as the big names returned to the fold for this hotly-anticipated Catalan derby clash. That meant starts for Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Xavi (his 30th appearance against Espanyol) and Gerard Piqué, with the only "contentious" decision being the inclusion of Ivan Rakitić ahead of Andrés Iniesta. However, the Croatian looked impressive in midweek against SD Huesca and certainly deserves his place in the line-up so at face value, this was a good selection from Lucho.

Only one question remained: would it be enough to secure the three points against RCD Espanyol and push the Blaugrana back into second place at the end of Jornada 14?

***

From the get-go there was something to note in Barça’s tactical shape; yes, it was a return to the usual 4-3-3 with just the one holding midfielder but at kick-off Lionel Messi was lining up on the right-wing with Luis Suarez occupying a role as an orthodox nine. Whether they would stay that way for the remainder of the match remained to be seen, but it was an interesting point to note at least. Equally, Xavi Hernández was positioned on the left-hand side of the midfield trio in the "Andrés Iniesta role", while Ivan Rakitić was out on the right in Xavi’s usual spot, presumably to help cover the gaps left by Messi and Alves.

The early indication was that these slight tactical nuances were not going to have much of a negative impact on Barça’s style of play; immediately after kick-off the Blaugrana monopolised possession and set about breaking down the Espanyol defense with their usual combination of up-tempo passing and individual brilliance. From an early dribble by Neymar to a nonchalant back-heel from Javier Mascherano, Barça were playing with a little bit of swagger – their confidence was up, and regardless of the occasion, we weren’t going to be overawed.

However, while we were aiming to break down the Espanyol defense using conventional means, it didn’t mean that we weren’t open to alternatives. An early cross from Ivan Rakitić looked destined to find Luis Suarez unmarked at the far post, forcing an excellent intervention from the visiting defense, their first such clearance of the game. At the other end, a low cross from the first Espanyol attack of the match called Jordi Alba into action, but as a whole, the opening stages were a little cagey.

Each team was committed...to not over-committing and leaving themselves susceptible so early in the game. On the other hand, with the talent they had available in the final third, Barça didn’t need to over-commit to create chances. Xavi’s surging runs from midfield were causing Espanyol problems while the drifting movements of Lionel Messi were also keeping the defense occupied. As such, there was a lot of room for Xavi and Neymar to exploit, although again, some last-ditch defending ensured that the duo couldn’t combine to create a real chance on goal.

Barcelona appeared to be in control, but without that opening goal it didn’t count for anything. A simple clearance from Anaitz Arbilla fell to Sergio Busquets, who, under pressure from the Espanyol attack and Felipe Caicedo, lost possession. Maybe there was a foul involved in the build-up, but the referee signalled that play could and should continue. Sergio Garcia was through, one-on-one with Gerard Piqué, who in turn was out of options.

He couldn’t commit to a challenge as one wrong move would have seen the referee brandish a red card – and potentially point at the spot. So, Piqué tried to jockey Garcia, only for the Catalan forward to drop a shoulder and create just enough space for a shot – a low, driven effort that beat Claudio Bravo at his near-post. Less than a quarter of an hour had been played at the Camp Nou and we had a potential shock on our hands.

Disappointing? Yes. Disastrous? Not quite.

There was still a lot of time and a lot of football left to be played in this match. This wasn’t a lost cause, but Barça would have to adjust. They’d have to pick up the tempo, turn the screws and apply some real pressure on the visiting backline. An immediate response would have been nice, but ultimately evaded our grasp. The final ball was lacking. Luis Suarez’ positioning was playing into Espanyol’s hands and in general, we didn’t look like we had an answer to their deep-lying defensive line.

Tactically, Sergio had got it spot-on. Leave a couple up-top to harry the Barça defense, and drop everyone else back into defense. Restrict the space between the lines and concede the flanks. It’s a template we’ve seen numerous times from opposing teams who have had success against the Blaugrana, yet in spite of our talent, we haven’t found an answer. Our movement in possession was abysmal.

In one instance, Neymar picked up the ball on the left touchline. He wanted to pass it off, play a one-two but there were no options. So, he dribbled the ball. Taking on all-comers, Neymar was always looking for an option, looking for a pass, but no-one even tried to present themselves as a viable option. Thankfully, Neymar is an incredible talent and could gain some ground before picking up a free-kick courtesy of a foul from Felipe Caicedo – but this simply couldn’t continue. It’s just not a viable tactic to beat any team, let alone one with a one goal lead like Espanyol.

Messi was isolated on the right-wing. Luis Suarez was anonymous and with both full-backs offering support on the overlap, the Barça defense was often left out-numbered. One wrong move and we’d see another Sergio Garcia-esque one-man counter. In essence, this performance represented all of the main issues with Barcelona under Luis Enrique – and thankfully, a poor finish from the goalscorer after a smart pass from Caicedo ensured that our problems weren’t doubled on the 27 minute mark.

In response, Lionel Messi finally sparked into life. Driving at the Espanyol defense, the Argentine magician drew a foul and a free-kick in a dangerous position; the Camp Now crowd sat on edge – they knew what to expect...but it didn’t quite go to script as Messi’s picture-perfect free-kick rattled off the top of the crossbar and away to safety.

A few minutes later we forced our first save from Kiko Casilla and in unlikely fashion; a corner from Ivan Rakitić and a header from Gerard Piqué – but ultimately an easy save for Casilla. The same could be said about our next shot, a relatively tame effort from Messi at the end of a majestic dribble, while Suarez’ first shot ended up off-target. Typical.

Thankfully, Lionel Messi was upping his game. A searching ball over the top of the Espanyol defense found the overlapping run of Jordi Alba who tested his luck with a first-time effort that prompted Casilla to make his best save of the match. Still, no equaliser and that had to be of real concern to Luis Enrique on the Camp Nou touchline. Not quite as concerning as Javier Mascherano’s positioning though.

He was too far forward and that’s all there is to say. When he won the ball, that was great. When he didn’t, Espanyol were one pass away from a one-on-one with Claudio Bravo. So, when Mascherano slipped and ultimately didn’t win possession in a tussle with Sergio Garcia, Espanyol had the numerical advantage and found a space between Piqué – drawn into a more central role to cover Mascherano – and Alves where Victor Sánchez was surging through on goal.

A loose touch from the former Barça B midfielder enabled Claudio Bravo to rush from goal and slide the danger clear, but it could and probably should have been 2-0 to Espanyol.

But it wasn’t, and Lionel Messi made them pay.

Did we deserve it? Hell no. Would we take it? Absolutely. Another loose touch, this time from Xavi probably played a part. After a miscontrol, he couldn’t take the shot on himself so he teed up Lionel Messi who fed the Espanyol defense a fake and curled in a beautiful shot into the corner of the net past the despairing reach of Kiko Casilla.

Right on the stroke of half-time, Messi’s goal papered over some pretty sizeable cracks in a terrible first-half performance, but hey, least we were level.

***

Over the interval, Luis Enrique must have been livid. That first-half display was all but shambolic and surely he had a few choices words for his players. Or himself, and maybe he made a few tactical adjustments to compensate. The end result however was the same either way: an immediate improvement from the hosts and a turnaround courtesy of Lionel Messi.

Neymar instigated the all-important move, surging forward down the left-flank on a one-man counter-attack. Luis Suarez was providing support and picked up the ball off a Neymar pass, pausing, getting his head up and clipping the ball back to the edge of the box where Lionel Messi was lying in wait. His first touch was exemplary, obviously. Skipping away from the challenge of the Espanyol defense, Messi went on to finish with aplomb. Despite their best efforts, the visitors simply didn’t have an answer for Leo Messi.

And who could blame them for that? They aren’t the first and won’t be the last to be burned by Messi’s individual brilliance, but they might just be one of the first to then follow that up by conceding to a corner. A carbon copy of the chance in the first-half: a delivery from Ivan Rakitić (sumptuous as always, I might add). Gerard Piqué evaded his marker and crashed in the open header.

Eight minutes into the second half and now Barça were two goals to the good. That’s more like it.

Andrés Iniesta replaced Ivan Rakitić in Enrique’s first change of the night, but it was the second substitute that made the most impact. Off went Luis Suarez and on came Pedro, full of confidence after he broke his scoring duck against SD Huesca in midweek. Indeed, Pedro looked like a different player altogether, wrapping up the three points by adding Barcelona’s fourth of the night in clinical fashion after a superb cross-field pass from Jordi Alba.

Minutes later, Pedro was involved in the thick of it once again, as Lionel Messi surged at the Espanyol defense and played a one-two with Pedro for the latter to provide a sublimely weighted cutback for Messi to complete his hat-trick. It was another delightful play from the Blaugrana who may have made hard work of it, but were finally cruising to victory. More of the same in midweek please guys!

Up next, Barça take on Paris Saint-Germain at the Camp Nou in the deciding match of Group F, as a win would secure top spot and top seeding in the Round of 16 for Lucho’s team. Until then, Visca el Barça!

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1 Artemis11 61
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4 AraibKarim 41
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6 ThreePar 20
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8 shubham2806 18
9 Anders Thomassen 16
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11 CifuentesErick 14
12 abdulla0207 13
13 tilak 12
14 MessiLeftFoot 11
15 Uncharted_Almo 11
16 AzBlaug 11
17 Youssefyasser 11
18 Ruy Diaz 10
19 Willis1984 9
20 messism 7
21 johnnystorm121 7
22 Catalan_Blood 6
23 Rajesh1101s 6
24 Waje.y 6
25 defeaning_silence 5
26 footballfordoze 5
27 askhanna 5
28 LaSenyera 4
29 msalmanz 4
30 hobo_barca 4
31 Abohabiba 3
32 Satvik 3
33 Abdul95 3
34 mrs.madridista 3
35 Staralfur 3
36 kenyanbarcafan 2
37 El_Illusionista 2
38 nolet 2
39 Navz 2
40 Tokjee 2
41 CriRo7 2
42 blackNpurp 1
43 hamed.mombeini.7 1
44 Omniscius 1
45 JFerreira515 1
46 Steven Cordero 1
47 Richzorz 1
48 Eddie Pundell 1
49 abhinay.rao 1
50 Ragnar_Lothbrok 1
51 logicalcule 1
52 MiB75 1
53 GoBarca 1
54 Barca Boy 1