Barcelona have their work cut out for them in the second leg as they were defeated by an annoying Espanyol club that were rewarded for their aggressive tackling with just four yellow card, compared to Barcelona’s five, and the game winning goal scored late in the game by Oscar Melendo.
Barcelona came out of the gate determined to score an early away goal, pinning Espanyol deep from the opening whistle. The visitors had their first opportunity to open the score less than two minutes in, but from a dangerous spot Lionel Messi sent the free kick over the crossbar. Barcelona continued to push, creating their next chance in the 8th minute, as Carles Alena led Barça on the counter. After a couple of passes, the ball found its way to Sergio Busquets on the edge from where the Catalan fired on goal, but Diego Lopez made the diving save.
Espanyol struggled to get anything going as Barcelona were dominating the ball. Barcelona had some difficulties working around the high press Espanyol employed at times, but there was usually a lot of space behind it once the Blaugrana got around it. Still, Lopez was only tested once in the opening 20 minutes of the game despite plenty of traffic in and around his penalty area.
Barcelona had their best look of the game in the 23rd minute when the visitors quickly carved up the Espanyol defense to create a good look for Messi. Firing from the edge of the area, Messi was hoping to surprise Lopez by shooting back across goal, but Lopez was there waiting to make the easy save. Barcelona appeared to have taken the lead in the 25th minute, with Gerard Pique heading the ball in off the post, but the goal was correctly ruled out as Pique was offside the moment Messi floated the cross in.
The first time the hosts fired a shot was at the half hour mark when a poor Sergi Roberto turnover gifted the ball to Gerard Moreno, but shooting from a difficult spot Jasper Cillessen was not called into action. Barcelona’s attacking appetites waned in the last 15 minutes, with Espanyol suddenly seeing more of the ball, but Cillessen wasn’t called into action, though he did have to showcase his ball-skills on numerous occasions.
With a tie score at the break seemingly inevitable, Barcelona wasted a glorious opportunity to take the lead in the 44th minute. Barcelona forced a deep turnover and Alena found the streaking Denis Suarez on the left wing. With a big target to shoot at, Denis took aim, but sent the ball wide of the near post, leaving the teams deadlocked at halftime.
The second half started with one change in the Espanyol lineup, as Leo Baptistao replaced Sergi Darder. Barcelona were forced into their first substitution in the 53rd minute as Paulinho signaled for a change. He was replaced by Ivan Rakitić. The stoppage in play for the substitution came after a late foul by Aaron Martin deep in Espanyol territory, deserving of a yellow card, but because he already earned one in the first half, referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea didn’t reward him with a red card, despite protests from numerous Barcelona players.
Barcelona continued to be the better team on the pitch, but getting a shot on goal proved difficult. Messi did have a chance to open the scoring moments after the aforementioned Aaron foul, but Lopez was excellently positioned to make the save. Seeing Barcelona needed more help in attack, Ernesto Valverde in the 59th minute brought the only attacking option he had on the bench, with Luis Suarez replacing Alena.
At the one hour mark, Barcelona launched a very dangerous attack, starting deep in their own third, ending with Roberto receiving the ball inside the Espanyol area. Roberto was then brought down by a stomp from behind on Roberto’s Achilles heel for a penalty kick. Messi stepped up to take it and fired a good shot to Lopez’s left, but the former Real Madrid shot stopper produced a spectacular save.
Lifted by the save, the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, which was very loud from the get-go, received a massive boost, which in turn lifted the home side to attack more. The hosts managed to threaten just minutes later, but Cillessen was there to make the save after a corner kick.
Barcelona’s game lacked flow and it lacked conviction, but a noticeable drop-off appeared after the Lopez penalty save. While Barcelona continued their search for the always valuable away goal, Espanyol’s defense did well to hold them to the perimeter. Valverde’s last hope from the bench came in the form of the season debut of Rafinha who took Denis’ place on the pitch with twelve minutes left on the clock.
Yet it was Espanyol who would look likelier to score over the upcoming stretch of play, with their first chance coming from a dangerous free kick after an unnecessary Rakitić turnover, but Cillessen was able to make the save. Barcelona were living dangerously and in the 88th minute Espanyol made their city rivals pay for all their misses and overall poor play over the last half hour. After yet another lost possession, Espanyol opened up Barcelona’s defense with a ball to the right wing to Marc Navarro. Navarro cut the ball back to Melendo in the area who slotted the ball inside the far post for his first goal for the senior team.
While Barcelona did launch an attack or two in the dying moments of the game, Lopez’s heart rate hardly had to elevate and Espanyol won their first Catalan derby since February 2009. Barcelona still have all to play for in the 2nd Leg coming up on January 25, but before then the La Liga leaders have a very tough game at the Benito Villamarin against Real Betis on Sunday.