Barca fight to preserve derby record
Barcelona have dominated the Catalan derby against Espanyol for over a decade but came perilously close to suffering a defeat to their closest rivals on Sunday night at the RCDE Stadium.
Los Periquitos were 2-1 up with 95 minutes on the clock when Luuk de Jong popped up to head an equalizer, break home supporters’ hearts, and deny Espanyol a first La Liga victory over Barca since all the way back in 2009.
The draw also means Espanyol have still never beaten Barca at the RCDE Stadium in the league, while Opta have highlighted just how impressive the run of derby results is for the Camp Nou side.
24- @FCBarcelona have now gone 24 games unbeaten in a row vs Espanyol in #LaLiga (W18 D6) and they recorded the best unbeaten run by any team in any type of derby in the competition’s history (23 games for Real Madrid vs Atlético between 2000 & 2013).Tailored#EspanyolBarca ❤ pic.twitter.com/zCJHrJdk6B— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 14, 2022
In truth it was a curious fixture for the visitors. They almost lost a game they will feel they should have won but ended up drawing instead.
Xavi and the players who spoke out after the match all expressed disappointment about the draw but the team at least showed enough fighting spirit to grab a point which keeps Barca fourth in the table.
Barcelona facing defensive crisis
The game did come at something of a cost for Barcelona, particularly defensively where the problems are mounting up for Xavi ahead of important games against Napoli in the Europa League and Valencia in La Liga.
Ronald Araujo picked up a calf injury and went off at half-time, with the defender spotted on the bench with an ice-pack strapped to his leg after the break. It doesn’t look too serious an injury but does mean he’s a doubt for Barca’s next games.
The Uruguayan’s replacement, Eric Garcia, came on but had a game to forget. Eric seemed completely lost when Raul de Tomas fired Espanyol ahead and was on the receiving end of a brutal nutmeg later on.
Eric’s only just back after five weeks out with a hamstring injury, but Barca simply can’t afford such mistakes in what is a crucial month both at home and abroad.
Gerard Pique then added to Barca’s problems by getting himself sent off late on after a spat with Nico Melamed. Yes, it was a spiky derby but the 35-year-old really should know better by now. The red card means he’ll now miss the trip to Valencia due to suspension.
Don’t forget Barca are also without Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti right now because of injury, while Dani Alves is suspended for the Valencia game and ineligible for the Europa League.
Xavi has Barca’s midfielders scoring
A lot has changed at Barcelona since Xavi took over, and one of the positives is the sight of the team’s midfielders finally getting on the scoresheet Pedri took just 74 seconds to open the scoring and his La Liga account for the 2021-22 campaign.
Gavi thought he’d added a second to put Barcelona ahead in the second half but the goal was chalked off for an unfortunate offside by Frenkie de Jong in the build-up. It was a tough call but the way the 17-year-old took the chance was extremely impressive.
Of course we’ve also seen Frenkie de Jong and Gavi on target since Xavi replaced Ronald Koeman at the helm. There are still issues in midfield, with Barca struggling to control matches, but the midfield goals are welcome and needed.
Does De Jong deserve more game time?
Talking of goals, Luuk de Jong’s latest for Barcelona raises the question of whether the Dutchman deserves more game time?
The 31-year-old’s future looked pretty bleak after the arrivals of Ferran, Adama and Aubameyang but he came up with a goal that secured another important point.
Luuk De Jong's goals this season have directly brought Barcelona five points, without them they'd be ninth.— Phil Kitromilides (@PhilKitro) February 13, 2022
De Jong now has now has four goals in his last five matches for Barcelona and earned some dsereved praise from his boss after the match.
“Luuk de Jong is an example and I say that in front of the whole squad,” he said. “He’s a top professional. He’s a goal scorer and that’s why we brought him on. He’s had two chances and then scored another one.”
Interestingly, De Jong’s goal also brought up another curious stat. The striker’s latest effort was Barca’s 10th headed goal this season in La Liga, more than any other team in the Spanish top flight, according to Opta.
Dembele reappears a month later
Sunday’s match also saw Ousmane Dembele make his first appearance just over a month after being dropped, then told to leave and finally brought back into the first-team squad after the close of the January transfer window.
The Frenchman again started on the bench but played the final 18 minutes as Xavi threw on pretty much all his attacking options in the hope of salvaging a goal which eventually came from Luuk de Jong.
Xavi said before the match he’d use Dembele when Barca needed him, and they really did need him in the closing stages against Espanyol, but he didn’t really have any impact on the game.
Indeed it was Adama who popped up with the assist for De Jong and will probably continue to ensure Dembele stays on the bench.
The new signing has his faults but also played a role in the opening goal. His strong run caused problems and, although his pass was poor, the move ended up leading to Pedri’s opener.