Philippe Coutinho got the opportunity on Sunday to show how far he’d come since he was last at Espanyol’s home stadium. Barcelona’s “other club” had given Coutinho the chance to prove himself during a spell on loan from Inter Milan when he was struggling at the Italian side, and having made the most of that chance, the Brazilian has gone from strength to strength before making it back to Barcelona for the city’s more famed club.
But on Sunday, amidst conditions which made playing football borderline impossible as the rain left Espanyol’s pitch more or less water-logged, Coutinho struggled to have the impact he’s capable of. Thankfully for him, his teammates were able to rescue a 1-1 draw when it looked like Barcelona were heading for their first La Liga loss this season.
Here’s a look at how Coutinho fared against his old side.
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 2
Shots on target – 0
Pass Accuracy – 83%
Key Passes – 3
Dribbles – 1
Touches – 85
Coutinho is still finding his feet at Barcelona, which is understandable given this was only his second start for his new club. At times on Sunday he showed his class with some neat touches, composed passing, clever link-up play with Luis Suarez, and on one occasion, a classic Coutinho strike from distance that cannoned off the crossbar. But he faded in the second half, failing to provide any spark as conditions worsened and Barcelona looked headed for a first La Liga loss of the season.
22nd min, SHOT: So nearly Coutinho’s moment. A trademark strike as Coutinho controlled a pass and then went for goal from just outside the box, but his powerful, curling shot came thundering off the bar.
61st min, CHANCE: The only time Coutinho looked threatening in the second half. He picked up the ball just outside the box and went for a clever dinked pass to Suarez. The Uruguayan was able to pivot and find enough space to take a shot that would have left Coutinho with a deserved assist for his moment of genius, but the shot was straight at the keeper.
Coutinho returned to the club which kick-started his European club career, but if he thought he’d feel comfortable in the familiar surroundings of Espanyol, that wasn’t to be the case. He started brightly, nearly getting his first Barcelona goal only to be denied by the woodwork, but as the game went on and conditions worsened, the Brazilian had less and less of an impact.
Nonetheless, it was at least a marginal improvement on his last league game, when he was hauled off with half an hour to go while Barcelona were still trailing against Alaves. As he settles in and gets to know his teammates better, he will no doubt deliver on the potential that made Barcelona make him their record signing.
In a game that would have appealed to the traditionalists, Espanyol and Barcelona played out a gritty 1-1 draw amidst pouring rain that left Espanyol’s home pitch almost unplayable.
Espanyol took the lead thanks to Gerard Moreno’s header and for a while it looked like Barcelona were headed for their first La Liga defeat of the season. But Gerard Pique, who has had a needling relationship with Espanyol’s fans, scored a late equaliser to ensure it was honours even in the Barcelona derby.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
FLOODBATH OVERCOMES FOOTBALL
By the end this barely resembled a game of football, with a rain drenched pitch covered in standing water completely preventing any kind of constructive passing football and forcing both teams into a hopeful hit and hope long game.
Naturally, this suited Espanyol far more than Barcelona, who had to abandon their usual approach of building out from the back in the fear that the ball would become stuck in one of the deep puddles that liberally littered the centre of the pitch.
After the home team grabbed the lead through Moreno’s excellent header it was hard to see how Barca would get back into the game considering the difficulties they had in constructing attacks, and in truth it would have been impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions even if they had lost. But their persistence to find a way to score was a tribute to their character, and a draw was the right result from a full blooded game full of desire but understandably lacking in attacking quality.
PIQUE TAKES CENTRE STAGE
Gerard Pique has long been public enemy number one among Espanyol fans, with his forthright political views and eagerness to poke fun at his near neighbours always assured of provoking ire.
The central defender had further enraged the home supporters before kick off by joking that Espanyol are not even from Barcelona at all but Cornella, a suburb of the city where their new stadium is located.
So it was entirely predictable that he was furiously whistled every time he touched the ball from the opening whistle and throughout the game, and equally expected that he played a pivotal role in the outcome by securing a point with an excellent header.
He was then on the receiving end of a violent challenge from Espanyol scorer Gerard Moreno which really should have resulted in a straight red card but only led to a yellow, and then nearly came to blows with the home team striker after making a comment to him before play restarted.
By the end of it all the whistles and jeers against Pique were louder than ever, and there’s no sign of a thaw in his relations with his crosstown rivals.
VALVERDE OUTPACES GUARDIOLA
The draw set a new club record as Barcelona recorded their 22nd game without defeat, outstripping the 21 games achieved by Pep Guardiola’s team in 2009/10 as the longest unbeaten start to the season in club history.
Beating a record set by Guardiola is quite a coup for Valverde, was initially met with indifference after his appointment but has now quickly earned the respect and admiration of his new team’s fans for his perceptive and intelligent management.
Valverde has been able to instil a much greater collective team structure during his half-season in charge, with his team’s results reflecting their solid organisation all over the pitch. And on this occasion they had to show their ability to adapt, with the unplayable nature of the flooded pitch in the second half prohibiting Barca’s preferred style of play.
And although they eventually earned a point more through sheer guts than style, that kind of never say die character will be crucial in determining whether they can end the season by replicating another of Guardiola’s achievements: winning the treble.
In dreary conditions at Espanyol’s RCDE Stadium, Barcelona survived the latest threat to their unbeaten season, fighting back to grab a hard-fought draw at their local rivals. Gerard Pique, who has had some back-and-forth with Espanyol and their fans recently and was the constant target of abuse from the stands, scored a late equaliser to cancel out Gerard Moreno’s opener.
Here are the player ratings from Barcelona derby…
Diego Lopez – 6: Had little to do as Barca struggled to get any shots on target, but could he have done more to keep out Pique’s header?
Marc Navarro – 6: Worked hard at right-back, solid and dependable in defence although didn’t get forward much at all before being replaced through injury.
Naldo – 7: Strong in the air and powerful in the tackle. Poor distribution but that didn’t matter much to his team’s approach.
David Lopez – 7: Read the game well to make some important defensive interventions, taking a no-nonsense approach to clearing his lines.
Aaron Martin – 6: Highly rated youngster was unable to show his attacking abilities but had a good game defensively.
Jose Jurado – 5: Played down the right wing and had a few opportunities to attack but did little with them. Worked hard defensively but was replaced after an hour.
Victor Sanchez – 7: Espanyol’s no-nonsense organiser in the centre of the field, he relished the conditions far more than most. ‘Getting stuck in’ is his mantra and he carried out that task to the full.
Sergi Darder – 6: A technical player who loves time on the ball, this wasn’t his kind of game – especially in the second half when the middle of the pitch became a flood site.
Esteban Granero – 6 A mainly defensive role on the left-hand side of midfield and carried out that role with determination. Offered little in attack.
Leo Baptistao – 7: A slow start but gradually became a goal threat, robbing Andres Iniesta to warm Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s hands with a 20-yard strike and then sending a flying header over the bar. His direct running made him a handful for Barca’s defence.
Gerard Moreno – 7: The most technically adept of Espanyol’s attacking players, he showed some lovely touches and produced a thunderbolt header for the opening goal. Lucky to only be booked for a disgraceful assault on Pique just after the equaliser.
Sergio Garcia – 7: Popular veteran came onto the right wing to spice up his team’s attack, and did just that by delivering a magnificent cross onto the head of Moreno for the opener. Booked for a reckless lunge on Samuel Umtiti and had an ambitious stoppage time penalty appeal.
Javi Lopez – 6: Came on a right-back for the final ten minutes and whacked the ball long a few times, as all the players had to by that stage.
Carlos Sanchez: Only on the pitch for a few minutes.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 6: Few saves to make and had to vary his distribution in the second half, with the pitch forcing Barca to play long rather than out from the back.
Nelson Semedo – 5: Initially offered good attacking width down the right but had little end product and gradually faded. Replaced by Sergi Roberto early in the second half.
Gerard Pique – 8: Mercilessly jeered by Espanyol fans but didn’t let that bother him as he produced a largely authoritative display, although he was lucky not to be punished after being caught in possession by Baptistao in the first half. Had the last laugh with a thumping header to earn a point, further enraging the home support.
Samuel Umtiti – 7: Defended with composure in the opening period, and when conditions worsened after the break he knuckled down and kept it simple.
Lucas Digne – 5: Another unremarkable performance from a player who just does not look up to Barca standard. Offered next to nothing going forward and failed to cut out Garcia’s cross for the opener. Rightly replaced near the end.
Sergio Busquets – 5: Initially immaculate in possession but occasionally struggled defensively and looked increasingly uncomfortable as the weather conditions worsened, clearly not enjoying the pitch at all. Booked for a late challenge on Baptistao.
Paulinho – 5: Solid and steady in midfield but lacked the subtlety of passing to break down the hosts and didn’t make his usual runs into the Espanyol box.
Andres Iniesta – 7: The starting point for nearly all of Barca’s attacks, Iniesta showed his incredible balance by gliding past opponents and puddles alike, the only played who was able to do so. Couldn’t quite find the final ball to match his build-up play but never stopped trying.
Paco Alcacer – 5: Glanced a headed half-chance wide but was largely anonymous on the right of Barca’s front three, and it was no surprise when he was replaced.
Luis Suarez – 6: Looked sharp in attack early on. Curled a first-half free-kick over the bar, but retreated into battle mode in the second half as the pitch prevented anything more intricate.
Philippe Coutinho – 6: Started on the left of a front three and looked comfortable, regularly dropping back to combine with Iniesta but also trying to penetrate the penalty area. Crashed a brilliant first-half strike against the bar but faded after the break, which saw him switch to the right wing after Messi emerged.
Lionel Messi – 6: Came on ten minutes after the break but this was not his kind of game at all, with the state of the playing surface preventing him from dribbling or feeding in short passes to the box.
Sergi Roberto – 6: Entered at right back for Semedo and battled away without making any real impact.
Jordi Alba – 6: Replaced Digne and had a sparky tussle with Garcia which regularly looked like coming to blows.