A goal five minutes from the end from Espanyol substitute Alvaro Vazquez denied Barça the three points tonight in Cornellà leaving Real Madrid an advantage of five points at the top of La Liga. Cesc Fabregas had headed Barça in front early on with our 100th goal of the season, but we always struggled to control the game and Espanyol were rewarded for their effort with the late equalizer. We might have won the game in injury time but Gerard Piqué’s shot rebounded off the bar and then the referee failed to see that Pedro’s rebound was stopped by Raul Rodriguez’s raised arm.
We started with the same starting XI as at the Bernabeu with Alves forward wide on the right but soon Sergio Garcia had found space behind our defence on the left and his cross was met at the far post by Verdu whose header was splendidly saved by Valdés and then Piqué cleared Verdu’s rebound off the line. It was a definite early warning though we soon had the ball in the net though it was disallowed for a previous handball from Messi, then when Fabregas firmly headed in Alves’s cross after 16 minutes to put us in front it seemed as if Barça would take control. Espanyol keeper Cristian Alvarez might have done better but he was unsighted and not helped by Amat ducking out of the way of the ball.
However, the usual story of Barça settling down and controlling things didn’t happen. Victor Valdés was equal to Sergio Garcia’s effort and soon after Verdu fired over after Alves lost possession. The game was very open but we were not making chances, Alexis had little luck with his passes while Messi was strangely quiet, perhaps wondering about his speech tomorrow. Iniesta tried to get things moving but his shot, after exchanging passes with Alexis, went straight at the keeper. As we moved towards half-time Espanyol continued to cause us problems and we needed some last ditch defending from Puyol and Abidal to prevent Sergio Garcia and Verdu. Then just before the break Cesc turned 360º in the area but his shot failed to sneak between the post and Cristian’s boot. And then on the stroke of half time Romeric was fortunate to only see a yellow card after swinging for Piqué as they jumped for the ball.
In the second half it seemed as if we weren’t sure whether to go for a second goal or try to sit on our lead. Espanyol were still looking dangerous and we even had to rely on Xavi to get back and win a defensive header in front of Romeric. Pep pushed Alves further back though he was still able to get forward to nearly find Cesc with a through ball that went just too close to Cristian.
Pedro came on for Alexis and looked more dangerous on the left soon sending a ball across the goal that Messi could only fire back onto the outside of the post but at the other end Piqué had to make a good saving intervention in front of Thievy. Keita came on for Cesc with the intention of controlling things but a minute after the substitution Espanyol were level. We were on the back foot and when the cross came in from Espanyol’s right Thievy headed on at the near post and Alvaro escaped Puyol¡s attentions to head home from close range.
Barça tried to react in the few remaining minutes with Piqué pushing up into attack. In injury time Messi sent Piqué into the area on the left and it looked like we might get the winner, however, Piqué’s shot cannoned off the crossbar and when Pedro fired in the rebound the ball was charged down by Raul Rodriguez. It was all very fast and obviously difficult for the referee to see but the replay showed the ball clearly struck Rodriguez’s raised arm.
The luck wasn’t with us but perhaps we didn’t deserve it today. There was talk this week about how Barça stay successful thanks to being able to maintain the hunger for trophies, though it should be admitted that Espanyol outfought us and showed more desire than we did today. Messi cannot be expected to save us every time though he was not himself tonight while Alexis also had a game he might rather forget. There is still a long long way to go in this Liga but the margin of error is getting to be extremely small now. If we fail to win the league this season I’m afraid I will be looking back at this game, and the 2-2 draw in Bilbao, as games where we dropped points basically because the other team wanted it more than we did.
Espanyol: Cristian (Casilla m81); Amat, R.Rodríguez, H.Moreno, Dídac; Forlín, Romaric (Alvaro m64); Weiss (J. Lopez m45), Verdú, Thievy; S.Garcia.
Barça: Valdés 6.5; Puyol 6, Piqué 7, Abidal 6.5; Busquets 6, Xavi 7, Iniesta 6.5; Cesc 7.5 (Keita m85, –); Alves 6, Messi 6, Alexis 5.5 (Pedro m72, 6.5).
Goals: m16 Fabregas 0-1, m86 Alvaro 1-1
Yellow cards: m14 Messi, m45 Romeric, m69 Rodriguez,, m76 Alvaro, m84 S. Garcia, m90 Amat, m93 Casilla.