Gerard Piqué ensured Barcelona were able to maintain their unbeaten record with a 1-1 draw at Espanyol. The Blaugrana has enjoyed their best ever start to the season and are unbeaten in all 22 games. Espanyol will be frustrated they were not able to hold on for a memorable win. But, a point is a fair result considering the miserable playing conditions meeting the teams on Sunday.
Messi enjoyed a rare rest and did not appear as a substitute until the 59th minute, allowing Philippe Coutinho a chance to shine in the first half. Although the Brazilian managed to hit the bar in the 22nd minute, he is still finding his place in the team and has yet to make a real impact.
The first half was rather uneventful. A waterlogged pitch meant Barcelona were not able to rely on their usual style of play. The conditions were making it difficult to even pass the ball. The pitch continued to deteriorate with every passing minute of the match.
Espanyol had a chance in the 25th minute when Iniesta lost the ball to Baptistao who charged forward, but his powerful strike was easy for Ter Stegen to punch away. The Brazilian had another chance ten minutes later with a diving header that was slightly out of reach and so impossible to properly control.
The Pericos thought they had their breakthrough within the first minute of the second half. Baptistao dribbled into the box, was driven just slightly off the pitch by Ter Stegen, and his pass back to Gerard Moreno saw the ball in the back of the net. By millimeters, the goal seems to have been correctly disallowed as Baptistao had gone out of play.
The real breakthrough goal came just after the hour mark. Sergio Garcia whipped a dangerous cross into the middle of Barcelona’s box and even a diving Piqué couldn’t stop Gerard Moreno getting a head to it.
At this point, it seemed equally likely that Espanyol could get a second or Barcelona get an equalizer. The Catalans best opportunities were coming from set-pieces with Umtiti and Piqué going up front as much as possible. In the end, the comeback goal came from a Piqué header.
Piqué – who had been booed the entire match due to his earlier comments about the location of the Espanyol stadium – was the worst possible goalscorer in the eyes of the Pericos. His celebration after the goal, holding his finger to his mouth to demonstrate shushing the crowd, only angered them further.
The match ended with a draw which was a fair result. Barcelona is now nine points clear of Atlético Madrid while Espanyol is hovering at 15th place in the table.
After the match, Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde discussed the weather and his changing strategy.
“We thought the pitch would be ok, but at halftime, we saw that it could become dangerous. Therefore, we had to try long balls and more strategic plays, but in the end, Piqué’s goal arrived.”
On the other hand, Espanyol coach Enrique “Quique” Sánchez was more focused on the actions of Piqué.
“A player cannot silence the fans, and even less ours. The gestures are gestures, but we are above those types of actions.”
Barcelona faces Valencia on Thursday for the second round of their Copa del Rey tie before matching up against Getafe at home on the weekend. Espanyol, meanwhile, travels cross-country to face Celta Vigo.
The starting XI for Barcelona was Ter Stegen, Samedo, Piqué, Sergio, Iniesta, Suárez, Coutinho, Paulinho, Paco Alcácer, Digne, and Umtiti. Substitutes: Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto, and Lionel Messi.
The starting XI for Espanyol was Diego López, Navarro, Aarón, Víctor, Naldo, Gerard, Jurado, Leo Baptistao, David López, Granero, and Darder. Substitutes: Carlos Sanchez, Javi Lopez and Sergio Garcia.