No Luck for Barcelona in Derby

January 9, 2012

Barcelona had to settle for a 1-1 draw away to Espanyol in the derby on Sunday night. Cesc headed Barça into an early lead, but his side was unable to build on it, and was pegged back at the death by Álvaro Vázquez. It was a tense, hard-fought encounter, in which key refereeing decisions went against Guardiola’s men.

The big story at kick-off was Iniesta’s return to the side, recovering from a strain picked up before the winter break. He took his place in a strong team, on the left side of central midfield in a 4-3-3.

Espanyol came flying out the traps in front of a raucous crowd at the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, closing down Barcelona’s defenders at a ferocious tempo, and breaking quickly whenever in possession. Their pressure almost paid off in the first ten minutes when Sergio García rushed clear down the left side of the area and crossed for Verdú, whose initial headed effort was miraculously saved by Valdés, and Piqué was ready on the line to clear the follow up.

Barcelona soon woke up though and forced a number of close calls. First Cesc thought he’d scored when Messi intercepted Álvarez’ clearance and squared for him, but replays showed a handball by Messi in the build up. Alexis then went one-on-one with Álvarez, but never looked confident and was hustled wide by the ‘keeper. On their next attack though, Barcelona took the lead. Dani Alves surged forward down the right and picked out Cesc with a perfect cross. Cesc’s header was powerful and aimed at the bottom corner. Álvarez got his fingertips to it, but couldn’t keep it out.

The remainder of the half was relatively even, with both teams forcing slight openings without capitalising. Abidal had to be sharp to block a Thievy shot inside the area. At the other end Barça continued to threaten as Alexis posted Iniesta through, but his left-footed effort was deflected away by Álvarez. Puyol made a crucial block from Verdú, and then just before the half-time whistle Cesc cleverly turned past an Espanyol defender on the byline, but his close-range strike hit the outside of the near post.

The game remained poised at 1-0 after the break, with no clear sight of goal for either side. It wasn’t until half an hour in that some space opened up for Barça – Pedro, on for Alexis, fired a deep low cross that Messi met on the stretch with his right boot, ricocheting off the near-post and into the side-netting.

Espanyol hadn’t created much, but took their opportunity with 86 minutes gone. Raúl Rodríguez was released down the right and his cross was headed on by Thievy for Álvaro Vázquez to score from no more than a couple of yards out. Then in injury time Barcelona had real reason to feel aggrieved – Messi played Piqué in, and after his shot crashed off the cross-bar, Pedro’s follow-up was clearly pushed away by Raul Rodriguez’ arm.

0-1 Cesc (min 15)
1-1 Alvaro (min 85)

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