Disappointing end to 2022 for Barca
Barcelona signed off a chaotic 2022 with a chaotic draw against Espanyol, in part thanks to the one and only Mateu Lahoz (more on him later).
It’s a disappointing end to the calendar year for Xavi’s side, who saw their five-game La Liga winning streak ended by their local rivals.
Espanyol also became the first team to score at the Camp Nou in the league this season, with Joselu’s penalty rescuing a point for Diego Martinez’s side.
Lahoz will unfortunately steal all the headlines, but the simple truth was that Barca weren’t good enough for the win, something Xavi admitted after the match.
The good news is that Barca head into 2023 still on top of the table, although they will know they have an awful lot of work to do if they are finish the campaign in first place.
Lahoz steals the show
When Mateu Lahoz was confirmed as the match referee for this fixture I wrote in the newser “let’s just hope it’s the players who take center stage against Espanyol and not Lahoz.”
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case as Lahoz went full Lahoz, setting a new personal record for bookings and turning the game into a bit of a farce.
Mateu Lahoz gave out 14 bookings, three red cards and overturned one of those sendings off during Barcelona vs. Espanyol.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 31, 2022
He was the referee who gave out 17 yellow cards during Argentina vs. Netherlands at the World Cup.
At least he's consistent pic.twitter.com/t3oS5AbW05
“He was giving out cards without any reason,” moaned Xavi after the game and he also blasted the referee for losing control of the match.
Lahoz also came up with a bizarre mid-match hug for Xavi in a fixture that will surely (hopefully?) have ramifications for the controversial match offical.
The ref was sent home from the World Cup after handing out 17 yellow cards in the game between Argentina and the Netherlands. What will happen after his latest disasterclass?
Alonso goes from hero to zero
Marcos Alonso gave Barcelona the perfect start to the game by opening the scoring after just seven minutes. The goal was made in Chelsea as Andreas Christensen headed back across goal for Alonso to nod past goalkeeper Alvaro Fernandez.
The scene was set for Barcelona to go on and win the game but the Catalans missed chances to extend their lead and you always got the feeling that Espanyol might just nick one.
1 - Marcos Alonso is the first FC Barcelona's player to score an concede a penalty both in a same LaLiga game since Ronald Araújo against Getafe in April 2021. Poles. pic.twitter.com/XXmqMQkvVG— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 31, 2022
Barcelona were undone on 73 minutes when Alonso conceded a penalty, and Joselu stepped up to secure a precious point for Espanyol. It was a pretty soft penalty but with Lahoz around you just knew it would be given.
Alonso blamed the penalty on “bad luck” after the game and he’s got a point.
Yet Barca’s makeshift backline of Sergi Roberto, Christensen, Alonso and Jordi Alba had more than a whiff of vulnerability about it and so it proved.
Barca’s attack misfires
Barcelona did have enough chances to win the game but lacked quality in the final third despite all the talent at Xavi’s disposal.
Robert Lewandowski was twice denied by good saves from Fernadez, and the stopper also did well to keep out Christensen. Lewandowski hadn’t been expecting to play for a while and it showed, while Ansu Fati and Raphinha also really struggled. Again.
21 - FC Barcelona have failed to win a game when thay have attempted 20+ shots in LaLiga 2022/23 (21) for the second time after in the last August v Rayo Vallecano (21). Jam. pic.twitter.com/Kn7tt20Xfr— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 31, 2022
Xavi sent on Ousmane Dembele and Ferran Torres just after the hour but neither player ever really looked like scoring. A certain amount of rustiness is to be expected given Barca haven’t played competitively together since November but the attack must sharpen up quickly.
Alba ban gives Balde another chance
Jordi Alba made his 300th league appearance against Espanyol but didn’t finish the match as he talked himself into an early bath.
The left-back insisted he was baffled by the decision to send him off, but if the 33-year-old hasn’t yet learned to keep quiet when Lahoz is around then he never will.
300 - Jordi Alba has made his 300th LaLiga game with FC Barcelona (277 as starter). Only 11 players had previously reached this figure with the Catalan team in the competition. Milestone.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 31, 2022
Alba’s dismissal means he won’t feature against Atletico Madrid next weekend which is good news for Alejandro Balde. The teenager has been a real highlight of the season for Barca but only came only for the last 10 minutes or so against Espanyol.
Balde will surely start at the Wanda Metropolitano next Sunday and has a chance to force his way back into the team if he can impress against Diego Simeone’s side.