Barcelona's first game of 2016 saw the Blaugrana travel to their cross-city neighbours Espanyol for The Derbi Barceloní. The derby is one of the fiercer ties in Spain and with the 2nd of January being a bank holiday in Spain, a strong attendance was expected in the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, a ground just 5.5 miles away from the Camp Nou.
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The sun was shining as the fans entered the stadium and before long the match was underway. Espanyol started the brighter of the two, looking to close down the Barcelona defenders whenever possible and force some mistakes at the back while Barça took a while to get into their groove.
As usual, most of the focus was on the front three of Neymar, Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi. Interestingly, Suárez was primarily operating on the right wing, with Messi filling in Suarez's usual central role. The Uruguayan was seeing plenty of the ball but struggling to do anything of merit with it. The closest he came was a whipped cross that Jordi Alba could only deflect wide.
Meanwhile Messi, in that central role, was dropping deeper to see more of the ball and attempt a few runs at the Espanyol defence. However, anytime he did ignite a run, the Espanyol defenders were on him. Pulling him down by any means necessary and more than one yellow card was earned this way.
The feisty atmosphere was growing and it was threatening to boil over. The bookings came in abundance and anytime a player went to ground, the fans were up off their seat to wave their arms in protest.
With just 23 minutes on the clock, we had our first demonstration of handbags. Preparing for a corner, Javier Mascherano met with Álvaro González. An arm into the chest resulted in a yellow card for the pair of them but as the referee was jotting down the offending players' names, the two were at it again. González tested the water with a slight nudge and as Mascherano batted it away, González increased the power into a shove and Mascherano fell backwards. Sergio Busquets came across to shove González back as the players huddled around the referee but José Luis González González handled the situation well and the minds soon went back to the football.
As the game progressed, it looked like Espanyol would be the first team to score. A corner was drilled and the flick on required a great save from Claudio Bravo. The Chilean got low to deflect the ball and Gerard Piqué was required to slide the ball away from the goal line.
Half time was approaching as Messi set the ball down for a dangerous free kick. The chance was Barça's best of the half and the Argentine curled the ball up and over the wall before hitting the joining of the bar and the post.
The half time whilst blew and in a relatively even game, Espanyol were the happier team.
Not satisfied with the first half display, the evidence of a halftime talking to from Luis Enrique was clearly shown at the start of the second period. The Barça players looked brighter and in parallel to the beginning of the first half, all the play was coming from the away side.
Suarez had switched back to his more natural central role and it was paying dividends. Four minutes after the restart and it was through Suárez that Barcelona got the ball in the net. A ball over the top was taken down well from the Barça number nine as he slid it across the box into the path of Andrés Iniesta. Iniesta slotted it into the net but the linesmen had already put his flag up as Suárez had drifted offside.
Six minutes later and the ball over the top again came off but this time Suárez was onside. In a tangle between him and the keeper, Suárez awkwardly got round Pau but he was at too tight of an angle and could only find the post with his effort.
With just under twenty minutes left on the clock, Enrique made his first change as Ivan Rakitić was swapped out for Sergi Roberto. The Croatian had played well but Enrique was looking for more fluidity in the midfield.
Neymar, who had been uncharacteristically quiet all game, finally got his first shot away in the 76th minute. Jordi Alba's cross found Neymar and the Brazilian did have time to take it down and shoot but perhaps unaware of his surroundings he elected to go for a scissor kick. The effort was tame and easily saved.
The clock ticked over the 80 minute mark and the home fans were sensing a great result was on the horizon. It had been over a year since Barça had endured a goalless stalemate and Espanyol were battening down the hatches in preparation for the inevitable Barça push.
However, this tornado of pressure was more of a gust and Barça had to settle for a draw. The home fans were ecstatic but the away fans left disappointed as their team never really got going.
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