Barcelona weather the storm at Espanyol
Barcelona were always going to find it tough going at Espanyol, with passions whipped up by Gerard Pique’s recent comments after the Copa del Rey tie in January.
Ernesto Valverde’s side had lost here in the cup just a few weeks ago and really struggled in the wet conditions which deteriorated as the game wore on and the rain continued to pour.
The weather saw big puddles form on the pitch which meant the ball kept holding up and made it impossible for Barca to play their short passing game.
The team finally started to go more direct late on and indeed it was little surprise that their goal came from a set piece.
Unsurprisingly too for a derby, tempers frayed as the game wore on, but Barca kept their heads to come from behind to take a point, despite the conditions, an excellent result in the circumstances.
Messi rested as Iniesta starts again
Valverde’s line-up surprised a few with Lionel Messi on the bench but it was probably the right call, particularly with the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg against Valencia on Thursday.
Messi was of course missed but still managed to come on and make an impact, setting up Pique for his late equaliser.
What was maybe more surprising was Andres Iniesta starting his fourth game in a row and lasting all 90 minutes. The 33-year-old also seemed to get better as the game wore on making light of the conditions as Barca came back to nick a point.
Pique rises to the occasion
Gerard Pique was predictably booed and heckled throughout the game by the home supporters and he would have probably expected nothing less.
However, he responded in the most perfect way by scoring the equaliser and his celebration was fairly understandable given the abuse he has endured.
The centre-back was also on hand to force Samuel Umtiti off the pitch at the end of the game after he was allegedly racially abused by Sergio Garcia (according to Sport).
We may hear more on that as the fall-out from the game continues but if the report proves accurate, let’s hope action is taken to deal with the incident properly.
Umtiti ban is good news for Mina
Samuel Umtiti also picked up his fifth booking of the season against Espanyol which means he will be forced to sit out next weekend’s visit from Getafe.
While it’s bad news for Umtiti, it’s very good news for new arrival Yerry Mina who could be in line for his Barcelona debut.
Valverde said pre-match that Mina is “ready” to play for Barcelona and, with Thomas Vermaelen still injured, we should hopefully get to see him on Sunday.
Valverde changes his full-backs again
Just like last weekend against Alaves, Valverde started with Nelson Semedo and Lucas Digne at full-back, but ended the match with Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba..
Neither Semedo nor Digne played particularly badly at Espanyol, but Roberto and Alba simply provide a better fit and more attacking threat.
The worry for Barca is that both Roberto and Alba have proved so important this season, that an injury to either would be a big blow, particularly as we reach the business end of the season.