The third Catalan derby in less than two weeks brought much of the same as Espanyol continued to play a physical game and Barcelona hoped to survive the encounter more or less unscathed. Going into the match Barça were more or less named winners of the tie, but history has thought us anything can happen in football. There would be no surprises in this one though as Marc-Andre ter Stegen kept the hosts scoreless and Munir El Haddadi continued his strong scoring pace in the Copa del Rey with a brace.
|Shots on Target||4
With the first leg ending in a commanding Barcelona victory both managers rotated quite heavily. Barcelona therefore started with both Thomas Vermaelen and Jeremy Mathieu in the left half of the four-man defense that also featured Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves. In midfield "new signing" Arda Turan once again started, this time alongside Sergi Roberto and Ivan Rakitić. In attack, the suspended Luis Suarez was replaced by Aleix Vidal while Neymar was given a rare night off.
From the get-go Espanyol pressed high against Barcelona, hoping to force a turnover close to ter Stegen, but the Barcelona players seemed ready for that and were very careful with their passes. It was a start similar to those from the first two games the two teams took part in over the past two weeks, but the talk the two managers held regarding excessive aggression seemed to ease the tension on the pitch - in the beginning at least.
With less hacking across the legs to worry about Barcelona were able to dictate the tempo play, despite good pressure from Espanyol. However, creating scoring chances seemed almost impossible for Barça as Espanyol's defense played a very organized game, limiting space for Lionel Messi and company. Barcelona's first scoring chance of the game came in the 10th minute after a corner kick. Munir got a header off in the box but his blocked attempt came to Messi on the edge of the area. The Argentine wasted no time, but backup goalkeeper Francesco Bardi did well to keep the deflected shot from ending in the back of the net.
That turned out to be the only clear-cut scoring chance in the opening 30 minutes as Barcelona only managed a half-chance from a Munir header until the 31st minute. Around the half-hour mark Espanyol actually looked likelier to score, with first Michaël Ciani threatening from a corner kick and then from a dangerous counter after a Messi turnover. In that attack Espanyol wanted a free kick/penalty after a collision between Rakitić and Salva Sevilla on the edge of the box but the referee waved play on. And Barcelona immediately launched a counter attack of their own that saw Messi play Munir behind the defense for a one-on-one with the keeper. Calm and composed, Munir skipped past the keeper and even though he was clipped by him he stayed on his feet and pushed the ball into the back of the net for the important away goal.
With Barcelona now in the lead, in the match and, by a large margin, on aggregate, Espanyol's players started to again play the body and not the ball, resulting in several heavy clashes, a large percentage of which went uncalled by referee David Fernández Borbalán. The physical game clearly, and understandably, favored the hosts who quickly created two good chances late in the half. The first was easily saved by ter Stegen while on the second, just moments after the young German suffered a dirty hit to the head by Felipe Caicedo, the keeper made a fingertip save on that same player on what appeared to be an excellent chip shot.
The second half started seemingly exactly where the first one ended, with Espanyol's physicality and two excellent interventions by ter Stegen. The first was a relatively straightforward save on a low shot, but on the second he did brilliantly to kick the ball away from Caicedo after poor coverage from Mascherano.
Just before the one hour mark Lucho made a double substitution, both of them in Barcelona's deep areas as Adriano Correia and Marc Bartra replaced Sergi Roberto and Thomas Vermaelen. And not much happened after that. Barcelona were looking to quickly pass the ball as to not get clobbered by an Espanyol player while Espanyol player were looking to clobber a Barcelona player at every opportunity. Despite some dangerous tackling, most notably from Álvaro, as the game went on only Barcelona players kept getting yellow cards.
But Barcelona would have the last laugh in this one, as the team's newest arrivals combined with Munir to twice beat the offside trap, with the play ending with Munir scoring his second of the game. Vidal would moments later have a great chance to find Mascherano for what would've surely been the Argentine's first goal in his Barcelona career, but his pass was off target. In the dying seconds of the game Messi had one last long-range try to join Munir on the scoreboard, but his shot was saved by the Inter-owned goalkeeper.
Barcelona will now wait for the draw on Friday to see who they will face in the quarter final. But before the Copa continued the Catalans will have to face the always difficult Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
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