Barcelona’s first game after the World Cup and their last in 2022 ended with a 1-1 draw against Espanyol in a highly controversial Catalan Derby at Camp Nou on Saturday afternoon. The Blaugrana made a strong start but couldn’t score more than one goal, and gave their rivals a chance to come back in the game in a second half dominated by referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz, who had one of the worst officiating performances of all time and became the story in what was otherwise a competitive game between two rivals.
Barça made a very good start to the game and imposed their will on their rivals from the opening kickoff: they were quick, sharp, always playing at a high pace and moving the ball well between the lines to create spaces and chances.
They got an early goal which always helps, which came from a corner that ended with an Andreas Christensen assist and a Marcos Alonso header in the seventh minute. Barça continued to attack and had at least three big opportunities before the 20th minute, but they were wasteful in front of goal and couldn’t find a second.
Their levels dropped a bit and they started missing easy passes in midfield which led to a few dangerous attacks from Espanyol, but Marc-André ter Stegen was never truly in trouble in goal. Barça started dominating again towards the end of the half, but a few poor decisions in the final third kept them from creating a real chance to double their lead.
At halftime, a good performance had Barça in the lead but the lack of precision in front of goal meant they still had work to be done in the second half to secure the three points.
Barça were very apathetic to start the second half, not playing with the same urgency and intensity shown in the first 30 minutes and playing slow, predictable attacking football. Their best chance was a missed header by Robert Lewandowski after a cross by Alonso, and that was the only good moment they had in the first 25 minutes of the period.
Espanyol continued to slow the pace down with physical play and look for an opportunity on the counter, and they got a golden chance when Joselu went down inside the box after an accidental step on his foot by Alonso and the referee pointed to the spot. Joselu himself scored the penalty, and the Derby somehow was all square.
Referee Mateu Lahoz continued to steal the show with bad foul calls and unnecessary yellow cards, and he decided to book Jordi Alba twice in two minutes for apparent dissent and sent off the full-back in the 77th minute. Lahoz was still not done with his personal show and gave a red card to Espanyol midfielder Vinicius Souza, leaving the visitors with 10 men going into the final five minutes plus stoppage time.
Barça had very little time to rescue a winner, and goalkeeper Fernández made two huge saves on efforts by Christensen and Lewandowski and somehow kept Barça from scoring.
Lahoz added 9 minutes to the game and the Blaugrana continued to attack and look for the winner in stoppage time, but couldn’t find a second and the final whistle came to end a hard-fought, highly controversial Derby.
Barça have themselves to blame for a poor performance in the second half, but the referee’s impact on the result is undeniable. A point is enough to keep Barça top of the table, but after Real Madrid received their usual help from the referees on Friday, they are now equal on points with a Barça side that just can’t catch a break with the officials. What a surprise!
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Roberto (Kounde 82’), Christensen, Alonso, Alba; Gavi (Busquets 52’), De Jong (Balde 82’), Pedri; Raphinha (Dembélé 62’), Lewandowski, Fati (Ferran 62’)
Goals: Alonso (7’)
Red Card: Alba (78’)
Espanyol: Fernández; Gil (Vidal 90’), Gómez, Cabrera, Oliván (Sánchez 90’); Souza, Calero (Expósito 57’); Melamed (Puado 57’), Darder, Braithwaite (Keddari 86’); Joselu
Goals: Joselu (pen 73’)
Red Card: Souza (81’)