Barcelona started 2016 with a disappointing 0-0 draw in the Barcelona derby but it wasn't long before they had a chance at revenge. Espanyol were the opponents again on Wednesday night as the attention switched to the cup competition.
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The game signalled a landmark for summer signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal as it was the first game they were available to play in since arriving at the club. While Vidal had to wait a little longer for his debut, Turan was picked for his first start at the Camp Nou and joined his teammates for the prematch warmup with a gleeful smile on his face.
However, the game was soon upon us and the focus switched to dealing the first blow in this two-legged affair. Having been subdued at the weekend, Neymar started this game very brightly. He was operating on the left wing whilst dropping in into a central position to receive the ball and it took just two minutes for his first shot. Gathering the ball on the edge of the area, the effort looked goal bound but met the back of Lionel Messi instead.
The next chance, again, had the Brazilian involved. His drifted corner was met well by a rising Sergio Busquets but the strong header was wide of the post.
Barça were looking to hit early before Espanyol had chance to settle but it was the visitors who struck first. With Vidal watching on, Dani Alves lost the ball high up the pitch giving Espanyol the chance to break. The on-loan Madrid man Marco Asensio raced away towards a backtracking Gerard Piqué. With the centre-back being forced to come across and cover, it meant Felipe Caicedo was free in the middle. Asensio slid the ball across and the Ecuadorian striker calmly slotted past Marc-André ter Stegen.
Having gone ninety minutes without a goal in the previous outing, it took just nine minutes to get the first and four minutes later, we had the second. After Luis Suárez dribbled upfield, the ball bounced away from him and fell just outside the box. Neymar stretched for it but it reached Andrés Iniesta who passed it through the Espanyol defence and to the feet of Lionel Messi.
Messi took the ball under control before side footing it with his left foot into the right side of the net. Pau reached but the ball was too close and too quick for him to do anything about it. It was 1-1 and Espanyol's lead was short lived.
After the equaliser, the game slipped back into the stop-start nature typically associated with derbies. A late challenge here, a slight push there and before long the players were in the faces of each other with Pau seemingly up for an argument with anyone in a Barça shirt. Andrés Iniesta turned into chief defuser as he pulled the players apart but the tension was simmering.
Getting back to his more familiar game, Iniesta was running the show. His dribbling and ball retention was superb and the majority of Barça attacks were coming through him. One of these attempts was a Neymar effort. Iniesta found Neymar on the left wing and the Brazilian lined up the curled effort. The ball beat the keeper and the post but Neymar was convinced it took a flick off the defender however the referee didn't agree.
With Barcelona taking control, Espanyol's night was made a little worse as the goalscorer Caicedo pulled his hamstring. In visible discomfort he singled to the bench that his game was over.
Barça were searching for the goal that would take them ahead but their final ball wasn't quite there and it looked like the teams would be going in level at halftime. However, Espanyol conceded a free kick in prime Messi area. The Argentine stepped up and curled the ball up and over the wall. It looked to be colliding with the bar but the effort hit the underside of the woodwork and ricocheted into the net. Barça had got the goal on the stroke of halftime
The Catalans started the second period in the same vein as the final minutes of the first. They were playing fast paced, attacking football in search of the two goal cushion. Messi was floating across the pitch and it was through him that Barça got the third but this time the number 10 was the provider. Again, Iniesta found Messi and he took it down the left of the box. As he got to the byline, he drilled it across and the centre-back turned centre-forward Gerard Piqué was on hand to tap in the chance.
It was all Barça and the chances kept coming. Messi flicked it wide, Turan found the side netting, a smart free kick from Neymar was saved but the fourth did feel like it was coming. With Barça cruising, Luis Enrique elected to ring the changes. Arda Turan's debut was over as he was replaced by Ivan Rakitić but it was the turn of Aleix Vidal to experience what it was like to play in a Barça shirt.
Turan had done well on his debut. No goal as I'm sure he would've liked but what was important was that he fit with the Barça style.
The task ahead of Espanyol was made a lot harder in the 72nd minute as Hernan Perez received his marching orders. Jordi Alba looked to go round the Espanyol defender but he was held and the referee showed the second yellow.
A few minutes later and Espanyol were down to nine. In a tangle with Luis Suárez, Papakouli Diop must have said something the referee didn't like as he was shown a straight red card. It's puzzling to think what could've been said to warrant a red but the referee showed no hesitation in reaching for his card. However the cards weren't exclusive to the visitors as both Messi and Piqué picked up yellows in a ten minute flurry.
The game was winding down as Barça were on the cusp of a comfortable win but that lead was made a little greater in the 87th minute. Neymar played a great one-two with Messi as the Argentine chipped the ball into the Brazilian's path. Neymar volleyed it into the far corner and got his deserved goal.
The whistle blew at 4-1 and it would take miracle for Espanyol to overturn the result in the second leg.
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