FC Barcelona went into hostile environment and defeated their Catalan rival RCD Espanyol 1-0 in the Derbi Barceloní on Saturday evening.
After a rough, physical game for 76 minutes, Lionel Messi finally gave Barcelona the lead in the 77th minute as a handball was called on Javi Garcia inside the box. Leo calmly stepped up and smoothly put it low and to the right of Kiko Casilla for the lone goal on the night as Barcelona stay on pace in the race for La Liga.
FT: RCD Espanyol 0 - 1 FC Barcelona
Let's get to the Best, The Worst, and What We Learned from this game.
The Best: Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Sergio Garcia
It feels like we can always put Lionel Messi in the "Best" category. Messi's speed in the middle of the pitch was causing problems for the Espanyol defense. Messi had to continue to drop back to set up plays, but Leo was able to charge forward and, in particular, set up Neymar for attacks. And Leo's penalty kick was silky smooth to give FCB the three points in a hostile environment. Messi has now scored 36 goals in 36 games for FC Barcelona this season (all competitions). Grande D10S!
Gerard Pique had a great game once again. Finally, Mr. Shakira is finally becoming more and more consistent. Keep it going, Gerard. Sergio Garcia is arguably Espanyol's best player, and on Saturday, he showed great form, great runs, and was causing problems for Pique and Javier Mascherano.
Worst Good, but was hoping for more: Neymar
Neymar had a good game, but not the great game he could have had. Neymar was given plenty of space on the left side of the pitch by the Espanyol defense. Unfortunately, Ney was able to get good looks at goal but no goals came about. I'm not worried about Neymar. He's going through some growing pains. He had a great game against Celta Vigo last week, and against Espanyol, it was a good performance, but not great. I understand fans and the football world expect more for Neymar, but let's settle down and let the kid grow and learn. Yes, he needs to step it up, but it's not like he's not trying. He'll be fine.
What We Learned: If FC Barcelona wins the Liga title, this game will be one of those games that we look back on.
The La Liga title race is the tightest it has been in recent history, and if FC Barcelona ends up winning the Liga title, this win against Espanyol will be one of the games we all look back on as a big reason why the retained the title.
This Espanyol game had all the ingredients for a Barcelona loss:
- Pedro and Cesc Fabregas both had a bad game.
- Of course, there was not Victor Valdes. No Andres Iniesta starting the game either.
- Neymar was good, but not great.
- Messi was threatening, but couldn't get the goal.
- Espanyol's counter-attacking was good.
- Kiko Casilla is one of the best young goalkeepers in Spain.
- And of course, being on the road in a hostile environment in a physically demanding derby game.
The ingredients for an upset loss were there, but FC Barcelona held their ground, got a few lucky breaks, and with some help from Espanyol and their errors, El Blaugrana were able to come away with the three points and stay on pace in the La Liga title race. There is still work to be done-including defending the counterattack-but Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Pique, Messi, and others kept FCB afloat and in the end take the points in one of the few "potentially complicated" games left on the Blaugrana's Liga schedule. One final thing I will say is that Tata Martino makes his substitutions a bit too late in the game for my comfort; that's all.
What's Next?: Tuesday vs. Atletico Madrid in CL quarterfinals
The Camp Nou will be hosting the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals between FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. It will be interesting to see if Tata Martino goes with the "Xavi-Iniesta-Cesc all together" lineup like he did against Manchester City and Real Madrid.
Xoel's Final Word
It was a physical battle in the Derbi Barceloní, but in the end, FC Barcelona were able to leave the pitch with the three points as Lionel Messi's penalty-kick goal gave Barça a 1-0 win against RCD Espanyol.
La Liga takes a back seat now, as the Champions League takes center stage at the Camp Nou as FC Barcelona hosts Atletico Madrid.
A Champions League quarterfinal dish, with a double serving of Liga flavor to it.
A por la Champions!
Xoel, The Voice of Culés