Barcelona are three points away from lifting a second straight league trophy after a comprehensive annihilation of Espanyol in the Catalan Derby, a 5-0 destruction without any problems. Thanks to a crazy slip-up by Atlético Madrid who are out of the title race, the Blaugrana are point ahead of Real Madrid and need a simple win next week on the road against Granada to win La Liga. If they repeat Sunday's performance, Barça are certainly in good position.
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Luis Enrique did not make any surprise changes to the lineup. The only necessary alteration was Marc-André ter Stegen in place of the injured Claudio Bravo, and that's what happened. Gala XI on the pitch ready to keep possession and dominate the opposition looking to break the bus parked by Los Periquitos.
It didn't take long for Espanyol to get physical, as Hernán Pérez made a hard, dangerous challenge that caught Javier Mascherano in the knee, but the referee let that go. Jesús Gil Manzano let plenty of things go, yet managed to book Lionel Messi for a soft foul. Messi was not affected by that, and he didn't take long to unlock Espanyol's defense and give Barça the lead. Seven minutes in, he took a simply spectacular free-kick and put it over the wall into the top corner, away from keeper Pau López for the opener.
Just two minutes later, Messi was involved again and assisted Ivan Rakitic for the second goal, but the score was disallowed as the Croatian seemed to be offside at first glance. Even with the lead, Barça never stopped attacking, but constantly ran into a wall from the visitors, who were not ashamed to foul the Blaugrana players whenever they conceded some space. Messi and Neymar had more chances on close free-kicks, but couldn't find the net.
But the Blaugranes continued to dominate the action and look to create more chances, but the Espanyol defense was able to keep the score at 1-0 at halftime. But with such a good performance, it was only a matter of time before Barça scored more.
The second half started with the visitors trying to go forward a little bit through long balls into the box trying to force the Blaugrana defense into mistakes. But the back four was solid throughout the match, and Marc-André ter Stegen never had any problems. Going forward, Barça were more incisive with the passing, and whenever they lost the ball, they would quickly press high up the pitch to recover as close to the box as possible. It happened when Dani Alves got a steal and the ball bounced in front of Messi, who did not waste any time to find Suárez onside and alone in front of the keeper. The top scorer in the league netted his 36th of the season and easily increased Barça's lead.
With a comfortable 2-0 lead, one would think the team was going to play it safe to maintain the lead with the table in mind, but the Blaugrana were determined to say goodbye to Camp Nou this season with a great performance and a blowout victory. They continued to go forward, and in a perfectly taken corner-kick, Neymar found Suárez again with space inside the box, the El Pistolero didn't even need to jump before delivering a well-placed header away from Pau López and score his 37th goal of the campaign.
The game was over, and Enrique used the opportunity to put his bench to work. Jérémy Mathieu returned from injury in place of Jordi Alba, while Arda Turan and Rafinha Alcântara replaced Iniesta and Rakitic in the middle. And it was Rafinha who joined the scoring party from the bench. Neymar combined well with Arda and attempted an errant pass into the box. Big-talking keeper Pau López, who wanted to give the league title to a Madrid team on Sunday, actually gave a goal to Barça with a laughable mishandle of Neymar's cross; the ball fell into the right foot of Rafinha, who netted his first goal since returning from a seven-month injury absence and scored Barça's fourth.
Messi and Suárez were on the board, but Neymar wasn't. So the first two took care of business, combining with Alves to create a beautiful play on the right side, before Suárez delivered a perfect cross to a wide-open Neymar, who easily scored and made Sunday a 'MSN' party.
Valencia came incredibly close to drawing with Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabéu, but Los Blancos survived and are the only team capable of beating Barça. Real travel to La Coruña, while the Catalan giants visit Granada. But Barça do not need to worry about Madrid. Win your match, and lift the trophy next Saturday.
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