Barça moved to within just a point of the third successive Liga under Pep Guardiola with a comfortable 2-0 victory over neighbours Espanyol. We were never really under any pressure today and goals from Andrés Iniesta in the first half and Gerard Piqué soon after the break left Mauricio Pochettini’s men with little answer. Our first chance to claim the title will be on Wednesday night at Levante where we celebrated winning Frank Rijkaard’s title back in 2005. However, even if we fail to take a point on Wednesday we still have a home game with Deportivo and a trip to Malaga to make sure. We should wrap things up though at Levante to give ourselves plenty of time to prepare for Manchester United at Wembley on May 28.
Tonight’s game was somewhat uneventful but thsat doesn’t take away the fact that we played very well. Espanyol set out with a high defence with the intention of getting in our faces and early on Xavi and Iniesta had little time on the ball as Javi Lopez and Javi Marquez followed them around, though it was just a matter of time before our passing game wore them down. Villa was playing wide on the left with Pedro on the right and Messi coming very deep in search of the ball. This led to Messi having a couple of early runs at the Espanyol defence but he failed to find the pass inside the full back to Villa in the 6th minute and then Pedro in the 13th.
The chances didn’t take too long in coming. In the 18th minute Iniesta fed Villa on the left, but after cutting in his right foot shot went wide on what was to be a disappointing night from the Asturian. Two minutes later Pedro tried his luck from outside the area, though his shot went straight at Kameni it was too powerful for the keeper to hold. With Villa and Pedro wide and Messi deep, we had to look to the likes of Alves and Iniesta to make runs into the spaces. In the 21st minute Iniesta made a good dribble into the area before forcing a decent diving save from Kameni. Espanyol had been warned but they did not wake up to the Iniesta threat, in the 29th minute Fontás played the ball forward and despite not getting a great first control Iniesta pounced on Galan’s mistake before darting into the area, nipping past Amat and firing low past Kameni at his near post for his 8th league goal this season.. We remained in control for the rest of the first half with little to be seen from Espanyol going forward though Callejon got past Fontas on one occasion. We might have made it two before half time if Villa was in better form. In the 36th minute after a great move ended with Xavi’s killer pass into the area he shot disappointingly wide, and then just before half time Messi went on another run but his pass to Villa was just too close to Kameni who made a brave save.
Early in the second half Iniesta made another spurt through the middle before finding Pedro on the right, and Kameni had to stretch to turn Pedro’s curler round the post. Xavi sent in the resulting corner and Piqué did well to hold off the challenge Raul Rodriguez and head firmly past Kameni at the near post. With the two-goal advantage we never looked in trouble though Osvaldo had a couple of efforts, first he turned past Mascherano before shooting straight at Valdés and three minutes later he got past Piqué but Valdés was again alert this time saving at his near post.
That was the only real threat from Espanyol, we continued to pass the ball around but we didn’t have too much urgency to get another goal. Abidal came on to great applause and Villa messed up another chance after lovely work from Iniesta. As the minutes ticked away Camp Nou sang Campeones Campeones but the celebrations will have to wait for Wednesday. Tonight was a very solid performance and I was pleased with the levels of concentration. Fontás did a good job again at left back though it is clear from his style he will be better suited to the middle. Messi was very good again and I liked the way he didn’t go goal-hunting, there are more important things than the pichichi award and today he was always looking for the pass. Though I’ll reserve my man-of-the-match award for Iniesta who was a delight to watch today. His form will be vital for Wembley as it was in Rome.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 7, Mascherano 7, Piqué 7, Fontàs 6.5 (Abidal m72, 6); Xavi 7.5 (Keita m90), Busquets 7, Iniesta 8.5; Pedro 7.5 (Afellay m84), Messi 8, Villa 6.
Goals: m29 Iniesta, m48 Piqué
Barça yellow card: m62 Pedro