Barcelona outclassed their long-time rivals to the tune of 4-0 as the visitors played one of their better away games of the season. Led by Lionel Messi, two goals and an assist, and Ousmane Dembele, goal and an assist, Espanyol found it impossible to contain the Blaugrana. Luis Suarez also added a goal to his name, keeping him tied with Messi on the scoring list with ten.
Ernesto Valverde went with a very similar lineup he used the previous weekend against Villarreal. The only change came in attack where Philippe Coutinho, who was surprisingly relegated to the bench, was replaced by Suarez who returned from injury. Despite positive reports, Arthur was not given the medical all-clear before kickoff.
Barcelona were quick to take control of the ball, but – as was expected from their starting XI – Espanyol were very happy to sit deep and allow their city rivals to throw everything at them. From the opening whistle the hosts sat back and waited for their opportunity on the counter-attack. And in the 9th minute they started a promising one, but Borja Iglesias couldn’t direct his shot on goal.
On the other end of the pitch Barcelona were attacking constantly, but couldn’t break through the defensive ranks of Espanyol. They came close to doing so in the 12th minute after Messi found Nelson Semedo on the right side, but the Portuguese’s pass was intercepted just before Arturo Vidal could get a shot off.
Five minutes later, Barcelona were in the lead courtesy of a brilliant Messi free kick. The free kick was won 26 yards from Diego Lopez’s goal – and you would’ve been forgiven for thinking “if only the spot was a couple yards closer”. But it turned out it didn’t matter as the “fifth best player in the world” curled an absolutely perfect shot on goal, beating Lopez to the top corner.
In the 21st minute Messi was in the thick of it once again, this time turning provider after a deep Espanyol turnover. The Argentine found Suarez inside the area and the Uruguayan sent a good shot on goal, but Lopez was able to make a sliding save. But five minutes later Barcelona doubled their lead, and “shockingly” Messi was making plays once again. The play was seemingly over after Messi slipped and fell while in possession, but he retained it and continued to dazzle just outside the area. Somehow in the middle of that he managed to spot a wide open Dembele on the left wing and sent a perfect pass to the youngster. Dembele skipped past Javi Lopez to win a just enough space to take a right-footed shot to the far post out of reach of the goalkeeper.
The hosts fired their first shot on goal in the 32nd minute after a corner kick, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen was in perfect position to make the save on Oscar Duarte’s attempt. But Barcelona were in clear control of the game and they showed that again in the 35th minute when Messi’s stunning over the top ball found Suarez in space, but Suarez’s acrobatic attempt hit this post. Vidal’s follow up attempt was blocked. Two minutes later the post rang again, this time Dembele providing the assist from the left side. First, Ivan Rakitić’s close range header was right at Lopez, but the rebound fell right at Messi who headed the ball back on goal, but he was denied by the post.
Barcelona’s lead should’ve been bigger by now, but by missing numerous chances they allowed their rivals to remain in the game. Even though Barcelona were dominating, Espanyol did have their chances, mostly coming through high crosses, but ter Stegen went mostly untested. Before the end of the half, though, the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat would see one more goal, but the vast majority of fans in the stands would not be happy about it. Dembele sent a lovely through ball to Suarez who muscled his way to the ball, but appeared to go too deep in the area to have a chance to score. From an impossible angle the Uruguayan sent a desperation shot at the keeper, but Lopez allowed the ball to slip through his legs for the three goal lead. The referee whistled for halftime immediately after.
Espanyol came storming out after the restart, but Barcelona withstood the early pressure. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was somewhat expected as Velverde prefers to “play it safe” after carrying the lead into the second half while Espanyol knew very well they had nothing to lose. Barcelona returned the favor and mounter a counter-press in the 58th minute, but Dembele’s counter attack was well defended, while the follow up chance for Messi was well saved by Lopez.
Espanyol weren’t giving up as Rubi brought on Leo Baptistao and Sergio Garcia, but tonight proved the Messi show. In the 66th minute, Messi added another nail in Espanyol’s coffin – again from a free kick. The spot, however, was far from perfect for a left-footed shot, but Messi would have none of that. Lopez was clearly covering the far post, but Messi sent a perfect shot to the other post, adding to Barcelona’s lead.
Moments later, Valverde made his first substitution of the match, with Coutinho replacing the impressive Dembele. After just seconds on the pitch Coutinho sent a dangerous shot on goal, but Lopez made an excellent save. Vidal also couldn’t get a shot on goal from the rebound, but Messi did, however it was saved.
Barcelona’s quest for the manita continued, but Espanyol appeared to have gotten one back in the 73rd minute. The VAR room immediately got involved though, but even though the replay conclusively showed the goal-scorer Duarte was offside it took two minutes for the decision to be made official. In the 79th minute Munir El Haddadi joined play in place of Suarez. A couple minutes later Denis Suarez replaced Rakitić.
In the final ten minutes both sides exchanged a couple half-chances, but the score would not change again. Deservedly Barcelona won in commanding fashion and maintained the top spot in the standings, however, with Sevilla’s draw earlier their lead did increase to three points. Now it’s back to the Champions League for the Blaugrana where they will host Tottenham Hotspur in a game that could feature a very different Barcelona as first place is already guaranteed.