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.
Espanyol had looked set to follow up last month’s shock Copa del Rey triumph over their neighbours with another upset when Gerard Moreno put them ahead in the 66th minute at a rain-drenched RCDE Stadium.
But Barca, whose cup quarter-final first-leg defeat here brought an end to their 29-match unbeaten run in all competitions this season, battled back and Pique ensured the spoils were shared.
Espanyol had lost all three of their matches since beating Barca – including a 2-0 second-leg defeat at the Nou Camp to crash out of the cup – while Ernesto Valverde’s treble-chasers were looking to consolidate an 11-point lead at the La Liga summit.
However, form counts for little in derbies and the testing conditions added an extra element to the encounter.
Despite that, Barca kept faith with their trademark passing game in the opening exchanges and were almost rewarded with a fine opening goal in the 22nd minute.
Sergio Busquets sprayed a cross-field pass into the area where Lucas Digne cushioned a pass back to Philippe Coutinho on the edge of the box, from where the former Liverpool man saw a superb curling effort come crashing back off the crossbar.
Nobody would come closer to scoring in the fist half, although Leo Baptistao twice threatened for an Espanyol side who had lost all three matches since beating Barca in the cup.
Baptistao’s first effort was a 25-yard shot that was saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, albeit after a fumble, while his second saw him head over from six yards out when he should have done better.
Espanyol thought they had scored seconds after the restart but Moreno’s effort was ruled out because the ball had gone out of play moments before.
Espanyol 1-1 Barcelona FT:
Pass accuracy: 62%-82%
Chances created: 4-11
Gerard Piqué’s late header rescues a point for Barcelona as Coutinho hits the bar on his return to Espanyol. pic.twitter.com/IWfCRYahiF
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 4, 2018
With clear-cut chances still in short supply at either end, Valverde opted to make a double change on the hour, with Messi and Sergi Roberto the men to come on.
Espanyol boss Quique Sanchez Flores followed suit soon after, and his substitution paid almost immediate dividends as the newly-introduced Sergio Garcia set up Moreno to break the deadlock.
The hosts quickly won the ball back from a Ter Stegen clearance before working possession out to the right wing, where Garcia swung an inch-perfect cross in for Moreno to head home.
With standing water becoming an increasing feature of the RCDE pitch, Barca were struggling to fashion opportunities and began resorting to a more direct style.
But they found their reward in the 82nd minute when Pique rose highest in the box to power home Messi’s free-kick from the left.
Both sides pushed for a winner in the closing stages as tempers began to fray but aside from Espanyol appealing for a late penalty, neither goal was seriously threatened.