Barcelona hosted city rivals Espanyol tonight with the aim to gain 3 more points. With the World Cup now in the very distant past, the return of club football once again took center stage across Europe this weekend.
England had already continued their top flight campaign, along with France who resumed their top flight competition just recently.
Next up on the list was La Liga, who technically returned to action on Friday.
League title contenders Real Madrid returned to action and squeaked out a 2-0 win away against Valladolid. This immediately put pressure on league leaders Barca. But all Barcelona had to do to release some of that pressure, was simply acquire another 3 points in the Catalan derby against Espanyol. It wouldn’t be an easy game, considering how rigid Espanyol’s counter attack heavy tactical set up is. But with the talent Barca has, 3 points was still easily attainable.
The match was an early one in the states, but a comfortable 2 PM local start in Barcelona. How did Barca fare live from the Camp Nou? Let’s find out.
The first half saw Barceloba dominate the match like everyone expected them to do vs Espanyol.
Possession was heavy, which allowed Barca to dictate the pace and carefully trek their way towards the game’s opening goal.
With the long layoff, some rustiness was to be expected, so a quick goal of sorts was probably ideal in order for Barca to grow into the match and gain more control as the minutes passed.
Luckily for Barca, they got just that, but the goal didn’t come from one you’d usually expect goals from.
Marcos Alonso opens the scoring
Alonso opened his Barcelona account on a goal that didn’t look all that pretty. It was a “dirty” goal that required some real grit from Alonso, whose header gracefully slid into the back of the net after an important assist by Andreas Christensen.
But the goal counts, which matters way more than any potential aesthetics.
After Alonso’s goal, there were a few more chances from Barca. One of which came from Alonso, who came very close to scoring his second goal of the match after finding himself clear on goal once again.
He was given a very good set up by Jordi Alba, whose cross found its way to Alonso in Espanyol’s penalty area. But instead of finishing the chance off, Alonso’s near post shot went way wide and into the stands.
Barca piles on chances
It was a golden chance for Alonso, but in the end, the defensive minded veteran couldn’t find his scoring boots for a second time. Barca continued to find chances after though, some of which should’ve been put away.
Raphinha had a powerful left footed shot saved closer to the halftime whistle. If the shot had a bit more direction on it, Raphinha would’ve been rewarded with a delectable stunner of a goal. Raphinha had another chance as well, when another left footed shot was easily saved.
That shot appeared to have the intention of rolling past the Espanyol keeper, but in the end, no dice.
After these chances, halftime arrived and things looked well for Barcelona vs Espanyol. They were missing chances, but the game was well within their control and it felt inevitable that Barca would add their second.
But as we saw, that didn’t happen. In fact, Barcelona had a lot more to come on their plate as the second half vs Espanyol turned out to be one of the more chaotic ones in recent memory.
The second half was nothing short of an uncontrollable rollercoaster.
Barca had control over the match in the first half, but once the second half began, their control began to completely dissipate. Although, it was due to the fault of a chaotic refereeing display that sent the entire match into disarray.
Barca’s downfall begins
The downfall of Barcelona began in the 71st minute, when referee Mateu Lahoz awared a questionable penalty to Espanyol. Marcos Alonso was caught in his own penalty area trying to deal with an attack from Espanyol attacker Joselu.
Well, at first glance the penalty looked questionable, but the replay showed Alonso accidentally stepping on Joselu’s heel, which by definition is a clear foul and penalty in this case.
After some discussion, the penalty was upheld, and it was up to Joselu to convert the golden opportunity. And that he did, slipping his penalty down the middle and past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen’s trailing attempt at a kick save.
It was game on at 1-1, but Barca certainly felt that shouldn’t have been the case. They missed chance after chance and they were reaping the consequences of their lack of action.
However, there was still time to correct their mistakes and find a second goal. All they had to do was convert one dangerous chance they’d be given the lead they deserved.
But again, this second half was nothing short of chaotic for Barca, so that scenario simply couldn’t find its wings in time. Mostly by Barca’s own doing, but also due to Lahoz’s selfish display of refereeing that left both teams bewildered in the latter stages of the second half.
Lahoz’s personal show takes stage
The true event began after Espanyol’s goal, when Jordi Alba was booked for protesting, likely due to the penalty that was awarded. Alba’s argument gave him a very important yellow card, which became a big factor later on in the match.
After that, two Espanyol players were booked for rather slight challenges against Barcelona players.
The fouls looked harmless, but yellow cards were issued nonetheless.
Then in the 75th minute, another yellow card was issued, this time to Ferran Torres. Who fell down in Espanyol’s penalty area after a rather rough looking nudge by an Espanyol defender. The nudge could’ve been a penalty, but in that spot, I doubt it would’ve been awarded.
However, the true travesty was the ensuing booking on Torres, who got booked for diving. Many replays were shown and there’s simply no possible way that could’ve been a yellow card for diving. It was a completely unnecessary booking for Torres.
But that wasn’t even the worst refereeing moment of the match.
In the 76th minute, Pedri was booked for protesting. He’d been visibly frustrated due to the harsh treatment he had received in the midfield throughout the match. However, Lahoz didn’t want to hear it, and gave Pedri a harsh yellow card.
Then 2 minutes later, Lahoz changed the entire course of the match by issuing Alba his second yellow card of the match. This was issued for protesting once again, but in the moment, the card felt way too harsh for a frustrated player simply asking for answers from the referee.
Sergi Roberto said after the match that Alba forgot about his first yellow card, which could’ve explained why Alba was deadset on arguing with Lahoz. Nonetheless, it was a bad red card.
The red cards didn’t stop there either.
In the 80th minute, Vinícius Souza of Espanyol was issues a red card after accumulating his second yellow card. The initial foul was made on Robert Lewandowski, and it deserved a yellow card. But it’s what came next after the foul that tipped the match on its head.
Leandro Cabrera — who was already on a yellow — stepped on Lewandowski’s head while he was on the ground. This prompted an immediate red card from Lahoz.
The action stopped the match a chaos ensued on the pitch. Lahoz had lost control of the match. And there was a lot of sorting out to do before he regained control. After ensuing minutes, Lahoz regained control, but not before going to VAR and overturning the red card he had previously given to Cabrera.
But the incidental step by Cabrera was still deserving of a second yellow. Lahoz didn’t issue even after going to VAR. Even after all the chaos, it was a match consisting of a 10 on 10 battle, a fortunate conclusion for Barca as they were staring down the idea of playing with a man down for the remaining 15 minutes and extra time the match still had.
Once the head spinning ordeal has concluded, the match still had plenty time for a thrilling conclusion. Barca eventually tried to take control, courtesy of two point blank chances from Christensen and Lewandowski. But in the head, Barca couldn’t find their second goal and the likely game winning goal.
The match finished 1-1, which saw Barca watch their league lead shrink to zero points. Therefore, Espanyol make Barcelona drop points for just the third time all season.
An incredible match, in both a good and bad way.
I honestly don’t have the words to explain what went down during that match.
There was so much that went on on both sides. But the action still found a way to jump into the realm of insanity and thrill. One thing’s for sure though, Barca is going to be kicking themselves for the missed chances in this match.
Their total xG amounted to 2.3, but based on the chances we saw first hand, that could’ve been a much higher number. These are the matches you can’t afford to drop in a heated title race, especially with how clinical and dangerous the rival Madrid side can be.
Luckily for Barca, they still have plenty of season left to build another lead. Bad new though, is that a lead might not develop over the next few matches, as they have two matches against tough competition in Atletico Madrid and Real Betis, with both matches potentially missing the presence of Robert Lewandowski, whose suspension is still hanging in the air.
Barca’s next match
After Espanyol, the next match of Barcelona is on Wednesday against Intercity. This will be Barca’s first Copa Del Rey match of the season.
See you all then!