Barcelona were shockingly, inexplicably, embarrassingly (feel free to use any other similar word) held to a one-all draw by relegation threatened Las Palmas. Lionel Messi opened the score from a free kick in the first half with Jonathan Calleri providing the end result early in the second from a penalty kick.
With a crucial match against Atletico Madrid coming up in less than three days, one would’ve expected Ernesto Valverde to rotate heavily against a team from near the bottom of the table. However, while Aleix Vidal did get a rare start and Gerard Pique received some time off, the rest of the eleven strongly resembled Barcelona’s Gala XI. Luis Suarez started despite the danger of a yellow card suspension while Andres Iniesta also took his usual spot. Jordi Alba though missed the game through suspension.
From the opening whistle, Barcelona were in control of the game and were looking to quickly open the scoring. The hosts looked vulnerable defensively, making numerous turnovers in transition. Barcelona’s first excellent scoring opportunity came in the 8th minute after a turnover in midfield which sent Lionel Messi and Suarez on a two-on-one. Inside the area, the Argentine found the Uruguayan, but goalkeeper Leandro Chichizola was very quick off the line to cut down the angle and make the save.
Three minutes later, Barcelona threatened again, this time from a free kick. Messi struck it well, but Chichizola was there again to make the save. Moments later, Las Palmas threatened for the first time in the match, with former Barcelona midfield Alen Halilović in the thick of it, but Barcelona’s defense stood tall.
Las Palmas, led by coach Paco Jemez, looked competent in attack, but defensively they looked shaky. It was a scene very similar to Jemez’s previous time in the Primera Division with Rayo Vallecano, when there was just a matter of time when the team would concede. And concede they did in the 21st minute. Messi won a free kick a couple yards closer to the goal than ten minutes ago. This time Messi powered the ball on goal into the goalkeeper’s corner, surprising Chichizola who took a step the other way, to put the Catalans in the lead.
Barcelona continued to attack, but they couldn’t create much. There were a couple half chances, but all of those chances were missing a final pass. On the other side, the hosts continued to look lively, but similarly to their season so far, they continued to have problems in front of the opposing goal. Las Palmas took a couple shots from distance in the first half, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen went untested.
In the 41st minute, Barcelona launched a good attack, with Suarez being played through down the left wing. Suarez found Messi in the middle who fired goalward, but the Las Palmas defense managed to block Messi’s powerful try. Two minutes later, Iniesta was played into a dangerous position, but after sidestepping a defender the midfielder’s shot missed the far post.
In the dying seconds of the half, Las Palmas should’ve had their goalkeeper sent off, as Chichizola, who left his area to prevent Suarez from going alone on goal, clearly handled the ball outside the penalty area – by rule a direct red card. But referee Mateu Lahoz saw nothing and instead whistled for the end of the first half.
Las Palmas came determined out of the gate, quickly creating a chance after a Barcelona turnover. From the ensuing corner kick Matías Aguirregaray hit the post with a header. Then, after a massive delay, Lahoz pointed to the penalty spot, presumably for a foul on Aguirregaray or for the fact that the ball brushed off of Lucas Digne’s arm, though whatever the penalty was for it was a gift by Lahoz. From the spot, Calleri tied the game up with a brilliantly taken kick. So, in just three minutes of playing time, Lahoz missed blatant handball by the Las Palmas goalkeeper and ensured the equalizer.
Lifted by the unlikely gift from Lahoz, Las Palmas suddenly looked even livelier as Barcelona were struggling to get going in the second half. With the apparent Barcelona problems on the pitch, Valverde was quick to turn to his bench, with Philippe Coutinho replacing Vidal in the 57th minute. The Brazilian looked to immediately repay his manager’s trust, quickly setting up Messi for a one-on-one, but Aguirregaray’s last ditch tackle prevented a golden chance. Moment later Suarez had a chance after a lovely set-up from Sergio Busquets, but fired just wide.
Valverde made his second change in the 63rd minute as Ivan Rakitić substituted the largely anonymous Paulinho. Barcelona continued to control the game through possession, but even with the added firepower of Coutinho chances remained few and far between – against the team that has allowed the second most goals this season. Ousmane Dembele also joined the game as Valverde’s last substitution, taking Iniesta’s place on the pitch in the 75th minute.
In the 80th minute Dembele found Suarez in the area, but the Urugayan couldn’t control the ball and the chance went begging. Barcelona were far from their best, but despite their struggles they should’ve handled Las Palmas with ease. But now, with a favorable result, Las Palmas were focusing all of their forces on defense, closing down nearly every inch of their defensive third and there were constantly two defenders on whoever was in possession of the ball.
With the numerous stoppages in play Lahoz added on six minutes of play but not even 96 minutes were enough for Barcelona to beat Las Palmas. All the Catalans managed, despite constant pressure in added time, was a long range Dembele effort that was easily saved. Barcelona’s La Liga lead now stands only at five point with Barcelona set to take on their closest rival Atletico Madrid on Sunday at the Camp Nou.