Barcelona’s winning run to start the season was halted by a spirited Girona, with some help from a 12th man. The hosts took the lead through Lionel Messi, but a highly questionable red card to Clement Lenglet turned the tide into Girona’s favor. Two goals, one in each half, from Cristhian Stuani put the visitors in front before Gerard Pique equalized midway through the second half.
As was largely expected considering Barcelona grueling upcoming schedule, manager Ernesto Valverde made several changes, with the likes of Nelson Semedo, Arthur, Arturo Vidal and Clement Lenglet all starting from the opening whistle. There were no changes in attack where the usual trio once again featured form the start.
Girona started very defensively, as the visitors were hoping to keep Barcelona’s attacks at bay with a five-man back-line. While Barcelona didn’t create much in the early going, Girona’s defense looked far from sure-footed. The hosts created their first excellent scoring chance in the 12th minute when Messi zig-zagged his way through the defense before looking to place a shot just inside the far post, but Yassine Bounou made a finger-tip save to direct the ball just around the post.
After some back and forth action mostly noteworthy because of a three yellow-card sequence, two for Barcelona, the hosts returned to the attack and took the lead in the 19th minute. Vidal made the key play inside the penalty area, supplying a perfect ball for Messi run on to. This time Messi would not be denied by the keeper and Barcelona scored the first goal of the game.
Just two minutes later Suarez made a gorgeous move on the edge of the area to create a very good chance, but Yassine made another excellent save. Barcelona were quickly back on the offensive where they continued to look dangerous, while Girona rarely ventured inside the hosts’ third. But in the 29th minute Girona came within inches of tying the game up. On a quick counter-attack Portu rounded Marc-Andre ter Stegen and fired on goal from a tough angle, but back came Gerard Pique to clear the ball off the goal-line.
The visitors then started to even more aggressively attack the ball-carrier in an attempt to cause deep turnovers, but despite some struggles, Barcelona held on to the possession advantage. However, Barcelona’s game play took a massive hit in the 35th minute as Lenglet received a direct red card – even though Pere Pons made the foul on the Frenchman. Pons ran into Lenglet, who cleanly dispossessed him, but as the Barcelona defender lost his balance his elbow came up and Pons slammed into it – reason enough for Barcelona anti-fan Jesus Gil Manzano, with the help of VAR, to send Lenglet off. While it will be incredibly easy for the referee to justify the red card, some context and common sense has to be used when using VAR – not just a still image of Pons deep inside Lenglet’s elbow. But expecting that from Gil Manzano against Barcelona is unimaginable.
Valverde took his time with the substitution, deciding to wait until halftime to reinforce the defense – a decision he would later regret. In the 45th minute Stuani made Pique pay for a very poor defensive play, stealing the ball away before leaving ter Stegen with no chance to make the save. The two teams went into the break tied at one, but Girona held a massive advantage due to the fact that Barcelona would have to play the entire second half a man down.
Samuel Umtiti came out with the team before the restart, replacing Ousmane Dembele who was sacrificed after having a relatively poor half. Girona also made a substitution, brining on some added offense as Eusebio Sacristan smelled blood.
With Sergio Busquets back in midfield, after spending time in defense after Lenglet’s dismissal, Barcelona were once again able to control the ball, but Girona would take the lead just six minutes in. Pique’s defense again left much to be desired as Portu easily out-sprinted him to the ball. Ter Stegen was able to stop Portu point-blank, but the rebound fell to Stuani who powered the ball in to put Girona in front.
With the game slipping away, Valverde had to bring on Ivan Rakitić and Philippe Coutinho, taking off Arthur and Vidal. Even though Barcelona were controlling the ball, creating chances against a very sure-handed Yassine was a different task altogether. Girona were again focusing on defense, but Barcelona were getting closer. At the one-hour mark, Messi sent a gorgeous free kick on goal but was denied by the crossbar.
Three minutes later, Pique received some redemption. Barcelona were pressing and after some lovely build up down the right side Luis Suarez fired on goal from in close. He was denied by the goalkeeper, but the rebound fell to Pique who headed on goal just out of reach of Yassine to tie the game at two. Even playing down a man Barcelona were buzzing and Girona were back to looking for their chances on the counter attack.
Time was mercilessly running out for Barcelona and the fact that Gil Manzano allowed Girona to steal minute upon minute of time did not do the home side any favors. Girona pulled back very deep, as if they were the team playing with ten. Still, their numerical advantage came in handy as they were always able to cover everybody. Still, a chance presented itself to Umtiti in the 80th minute after a won header inside the area by Pique, but the Frenchman’s shot was blocked at the last second.
The very next minute Jordi Alba was played through the left side by Messi, but the Spaniard was let down by his first-touch. Moments later Coutinho tried his luck from 35-yards out, but Yassine added another save to his name. Adding to Barcelona’s frustrations was the fact that Gil Manzano continued to turn a blind eye on numerous occasions, none more blatant than in the 87th minute when former La Masia graduate Marc Muniesa clearly brought down Busquets on the very edge of the area, but nothing was given.
Even with numerous stoppages and an incredible amount of time wasting, only three minutes were added on. The added time went by without much excitement and Gil Manzano made sure not even an extra second was given, leaving the two sides deadlocked at two. Barcelona remain in first place in the standings, but have lost the two point advantage they held over Real Madrid.
Far too much of this match review was focused on a referee that has time and time again proven he can (and will) do anything necessary. However, despite that, combined with a late reaction from Valverde, Barcelona still had the opportunities to snatch the win and hopefully these two unnecessarily dropped points won’t be needed at the end of the season.