Barcelona are now 13 points clear at the top of the La Liga table thanks to a 2-0 win over Espanyol in Saturday’s Catalan Derby at Camp Nou. The Blaugrana needed to be patient against a very well organized defense, but a great substitute performance from Malcom and another two goals from Lionel Messi gave Barça three big points and a season sweep of the local rivals.
The first half followed a simple script: Espanyol parked the bus with nine players behind the ball at all times, while Barça had possession and tried to create chances. The home team was actually pretty good with the ball, passing well and moving to find spaces and create opportunities. Lionel Messi found himself in great positions to score, but the captain was strangely wasteful and missed some big chances.
The visitors didn’t offer much when they got the ball back, but when they did the Barça defense was pretty solid and never had any trouble. It was really all about the offensive efficiency, and Barça didn’t show much of it in the first 45 minutes.
At halftime, Barça were playing quite well at times but still needed improve their finishing to get the win in the second half.
The first 15 minutes of the second half were pretty boring, with Barça having more trouble with Espanyol’s defense than they did in the first while the away team was more than OK with keeping the clean sheet and not really attacking. Sergi Roberto and Malcom came on as Ernesto Valverde tried to add something different to the offense, and the changes made Barça more dangerous and decisive with the ball.
Both full-backs were pushing forward, three strikers were in the box at all times and the midfield pressed the ball high up the pitch with purpose. The Blaugrana went all-in to get the winner, and then Lionel Messi went through three defenders and won a free-kick at the edge of the box; the captain then lifted the ball over the wall, and despite Victor Sánchez’s best efforts to stop the ball from going in, Barça had the lead.
Espanyol’s plan of parking the bus to get a 0-0 draw went out the window, and they had no Plan B and couldn’t create any chances to score the equalizer despite sending a lot of bodies forward. They left spaces in behind as well, and paid for it when Ivan Rakitic played a sensational pass to Malcom, who was free to run with the ball and wait for the right moment to assist Lionel Messi’s second goal of the afternoon to make it 2-0 and kill the game.
Shortly after Messi’s goal came the final whistle to end another Catalan Derby triumph for the leaders. Up next, Villarreal away, the final test before what will pretty much be the title decider against Atlético Madrid next weekend. Good job, boys!
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo (Roberto), Piqué, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur (Malcom); Messi, Suárez, Coutinho (Vidal)
Goals: Messi (71’, 89’)
Espanyol: López; Rosales, López, Naldo, Hermoso, Pedrosa; Granero, Sánchez (Semedo), Roca; Melendo (García), Iglesias (Wu Lei)