Barcelona visited their cross-town rivals Espanyol, in a must-win game. Despite a scoreline that reflected positively for the away side, there were plenty of things that went haywire, in a hostile match. Here’s a look at the game, play by play.
1’ A throw-in for Sergi Roberto. While it's not a big deal to have a bit of chaos in the early moments of the game, especially from a throw-in, this play highlighted how Espanyol were prepared to counter when they got the chance. The Periquitos displayed an intelligent play of press, which was supposed to set the tone for the rest of the game.
3’ The home side continued to press the Barça backline with four men in the absence of Sergi Roberto, who sat on the sidelines to get some treatment. With the return of Roberto on the pitch, Espanyol returned to a man-marking press, to apply pressure and force overturns of possession.
5’ A chance for Espanyol, as a beautiful through-ball under pressure allows Caicedo to make the cutback for Jurado. However, Sergio Busquets had Jurado in his reach the whole time, and had he not decided to start jogging back and leave his man open, Barça could have avoided Espanyol’s best chance so far.
14’ Moreno enters the referee's book with a yellow card for a late challenge.
Barcelona had managed to regain control of the ball after a good ten minutes into the game. With the ball at their feet, Barça began to draw fouls, which slowed the tempo of the game down in their favour.
Espanyol however, continued to employ tactics that squeezed out their opponents in the final third, with their two lines of 4 compressing into one, deleting any space that could possibly be abused by Barça.
Despite all this, the Blaugrana were firmly in control, and kept finding crevices to slip the ball through. By the half hour mark, Barça had threatened Espanyol's backline numerous times, including a few chances in the box. The ball continued to switch sides in the middle of the park, as both teams strived to keep possession and attack.
Before the half-time whistle, both teams had had their fair share of the ball, and had managed to create plenty of chances, but neither delivered the finish.
The second half began with Espanyol’s foot on the pedal.
49’ A horrible back-pass from Jurado, puts Luis Suarez one on one with Diego Lopez. The Uruguayan maintains his calm, and finishes cleanly in the bottom-left corner for the opener in the Catalan derby, finally ending his goal-drought.
55’ Neymar falls prey to ball-hogging as the Brazilian manages to create a dangerous play in the opposition box, but fails to release the ball to an incoming Andre Gomes, and loses the opportunity, as he is swarmed by men in blue and white.
58’ Booking for Martin, as he arrives with a late tackle on Messi.
61’ A wonderful play from Messi, as he manages to single out an open Neymar in a crowded box, with a wonderful pass. The Brazilian takes his time to curl a shot on the top right corner but Diego Lopez keeps the curler from creeping under the cross bar.
62’ Leo Baptistao replaces Caicedo in an offensive sub, as Espanyol struggle to break even. The former Atletico man even manages to threaten Ter Stegen’s goal, but his shot rebounds to Jurado who can’t finish the job either.
67’ Fuego enter's the book as well, for a late challenge on Lionel Messi 30 yards out. The argentine takes the following free-kick, but it's straight at Lopez.
Espanyol had begun to up the pressure on Barça. Despite the one goal lead, the game was still anyone's to walk away with.
78’ Lionel Messi took the game by it's collar and put Barça over the line as he drew 4 defenders to himself before squaring the ball to an open Ivan Rakitic, who finished with ease to double Barça's lead.
79’ Andre Gomes is replaced by Javier Mascherano, after a wonderful display all game long.
87’ After a long stretch of possession from Barça, Luis Suarez makes the most of another error from Espanyol as Martin's poor clearance falls straight towards the Uruguayan who rounds the keeper before finishing his chance.
After theee minutes of stoppage time, the referee blew his three pips.
A good game for the Blaugrana who managed to win despite a tough opponent, by capitalising on the mistakes of their adversary. In a game that saw Barça revert to it’s old tactic of a 4-3-3 with a flat midfield as seen above, Luis Enrique managed to keep the pressure on Real Madrid, in a Liga, that is going straight to the wire.
Onwards and upwards!