Goals from Alexis Sanchez and Pedro Rodriguez earned Barça a 0-2 victory over Espanyol in tonight’s local derby at Cornellà-El Prat. The win takes Barça’s total for the season up to 97 points thus maintaining the possibility of equalizing Real Madrid’s record of 100 points set last season.
Having been sick all week I have to admit that when I saw the lineup for tonight’s game there was little to motivate me into finding the energy to go down to my local bar. No Deulofeu, no Rafinha – now that would have got me excited – not even a place for Montoya, Tello or poor old Bartrá. However, I did want to see how Thiago Alcántara performed given the recent stories of a possible departure.
It is difficult to understand why these end-of-season games are not being used to give some youngsters experience. Equalizing the Madrid record is all very nice but surely there are more important things. Deep down I have the suspicion that it is not Tito’s ambition to equal Madrid’s record but more a desire to beat Guardiola’s best total of 99.
Whatever the case, Barça took the game by the scruff of the neck and gave a very solid performance which would have resulted in an even bigger scoreline but for some indecisive finishing from David Villa and Cesc Fabregas. Iniesta stood out in the early stages for his distribution, while both Jordi Alba and Dani Alves offered support by getting forward on the flanks.
In the 14th minute Alba fed the ball out to Alexis on the left who darted inside past Javi Lopez before playing a quick one-two with Villa who was on the edge of the area. When Villa flicked the ball back Alexis jumped to receive the ball on his chest which took him past Diego Colotto before drawing the ball away from Raul Rodriguez and curling the ball inside Cristian Alvarez’s far post. I can assure you if Neymar scores a goal like that on his debut we will all be drooling. Golazo!
Espanyol tried pressing Barça high but apart from a couple of times midway through the first half they caused few problems to Barça’s back four and Valdés was given little to do besides gather a shot from Colotto that appeared to be going wide. Fabregas had a great chance after a chip into the area from Alex Song but he hit his side-footed volley into the ground and the ball bounced out off the near post.
There was little more action in the first half though Fabregas fired another volley into the ground with the bounce sending the ball well over, and Iniesta tried his luck from 25 yards but the ball didn’t curl enough and missed the post by a foot. Espanyol showed some frustration with a challenge from behind from Forlin on Fabregas and then a raised elbow from Lopez on Fabregas but the referee Fernández Borbalán kept his cards in his pockets.
Espanyol tried to raise the rhythm in the second half but they began to leave more space at the back. Barça began to create chances with the best falling to Villa in the 54th minute after Thiago slipped a ball into Fabregas on the right hand side of the area. When Fabregas squared to Villa he had time to steady himself but then inexplicably fired wide from ten yards.
There was little danger from Espanyol except for one run from the bustling Wakaso who got by Alves and Thiago before being blocked by Piqué, a forceful shot from Victor Sanchez which was well covered by Valdés, and a dangerous cross from Stuani which Alves did well to get away. In the end Espanyol’s frustration boiled over with an over-the-top protest from Wakaso after a clear foul from Capdevila on Alexis. Wakaso didn’t stop his protest after receiving a yellow card so Fernández Borbalán showed him another and Espanyol were a man down for the final ten minutes.
It all helped to make things that little bit easier for Barça. Substitutes Pedro and Xavi combined to add Barça’s second which had similarities with the first goal. Pedro cut in from the left, a quick one-two, though this time there were no defenders in front of Pedro when he received the return and after a good control Pedro buried the ball past Alvarez.
Espanyol: Alvarez; Javi Lopez, Raul Rodriguez, Collotto, Capdevila; Victor Sanchez (Simao m71), Forlin; Stuani (Alfonso m92), Verdu (Gomez m89), Wakaso; Sergio Garcia.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 7, Piqué 7.5, Mascherano 7.5, Alba 7; Thiago 6.5, Song 7, Iniesta 7.5 (Xavi m84, 7); Villa 5.5 (Pedro m71, 7), Fabregas 6, Alexis 8 (Tello m84, –).
Goals: m14 Alexis 0-1, m86 Pedro 0-2
Yellow cards: m45 Rodriguez, m81 Wakaso, m88 Forlin, m88 Fabregas.
Red card: Wakaso m81