Match Day 15 witnessed the Catalan derby with Espanyol hosting Barcelona at the RCDE stadium. Though it’s considered to be one of the toughest fixtures on the calendar for Barça, they had a good away record with 5 draws and 6 wins; the last defeat coming in the 2006/07 season.
Barça would have been buoyed by their victory against Villareal with some notable individual performances in Dembélé , Pique and Vidal, while Espanyol’s strong start make them European contenders.
Formation and Lineups
Luis Suarez returned to the starting lineup after his recovery from knee injury as Barça made the only change from their previous match against Villareal. The impressive Dembélé was handed another start as Philippe Coutinho missed out.
Espanyol started with a 4-3-3 formation with Pérez, Melendo and the impressive Borja Iglesias upfront.
Barcelona took quick control of the ball, but Espanyol were happy to sit deep and wait for an opportunity on the counter-attack. The first half chance for Barça came in the 7th minute when Espanyol gave away the ball to Dembélé who teed up Messi, however Messi was surrounded around the box and could not get away a shot.
Barcelona were attacking constantly, but couldn’t break through the defensive ranks of Espanyol. They came close to doing so in the 12th minute after Messi found Nelson Semedo on the right side, but the Portuguese’s pass was intercepted just before Arturo Vidal could get a shot off.
A few minutes later, Messi won a free-kick 26 yards from goal and Espanyol’s worst fears came true. Messi curled an absolute beauty into the right top corner leaving Diego Lopez no chance of saving it.
In the 21st minute, Messi turned provider as he swept a ball towards Luis Suarez and the Uruguayan would have scored if not for a sliding save from Diego Lopez.
Five minutes later Barça scored their second thanks to a piece of Messi Magic. Messi was surrounded by 4 players attempting to take the ball of him, but still he managed to wriggle and dazzle around the box. After a slip, the play seemed over, however he still somehow managed to keep control of the ball and slid a wonderful through ball to Dembélé . Dembélé , after turning Javi Lopez struck an wonderful curler to beat Diego Lopez on the far post.
Espanyol responded by having a sustained period of possession, and the best chance came to Oscar Duarte, who after out-jumping Alba, headed straight to Ter Stegen, who made an easy save. But Barcelona were in control of the game and it was reflected again in the 35th minute when Messi’s gorgeous over the top ball found Suarez in space, but Suarez’s acrobatic attempt beat Diego Lopez, but hit the post. Two minutes later, the post saved Espanyol again, this time Dembélé providing a brilliant cross from the left side. First, Ivan Rakitić’s close range header was right at Lopez, but the rebound fell nicely for Messi whose follow-up header hit the far corner post.
Barcelona scored their third with the last play of the first half. Dembélé was the creator, as he slid in a through-ball finding Suarez in space. Suarez, from an impossible angle sent a shot at the keeper, who allowed the ball to slip through his legs. The first-half ended with a clear advantage to Barcelona.
Espanyol started brightly in the opening minutes of the second half, but Barcelona were able to hold off the pressure with the hosts not creating any clear-cut chances. In the 66thminute, Messi sealed the match by scoring yet another free-kick. This one was just as good as the opening goal, sending a perfect shot to the other post.
The last significant action of the match came in the 74thminute as Oscar Duarte converted from a dodgy corner decision. However VAR ruled it offside after taking a couple of minutes to make the decision official.
The score remained 4-0 after a few half-chances were created in the last 10 minutes. One of the best performances of Barça this season.
¡Visca el Barça!
- Messi’s Masterclass
Messi was simply unstoppable with goals, assists, incredible dribbling, magical through-balls and an unbelievable intensity. He has now scored 9 free-kick goals in 2018 with the next highest being the entire club of Lyon with 5 goals followed by Levante. He doesn’t need individual prizes to prove his greatness, in fact watching him play is the biggest privilege each one of us have received. Let’s enjoy his greatness till it lasts.
- Vidal’s Continued Adaptation
Vidal’s work ethic and intensity is something Barça are benefitting a lot. His passing and distribution skills is pretty good for a player who has not come out of the Barça system. He has also developed a great understanding with Messi. Considering the performances of Rakitic this season, It won’t be bad idea to see him replace Rakitic in the starting lineup.
- Semedo’s Maturity
Semedo has clearly matured over the last few matches. He looks confident on the ball and his pace is always an asset on the wings. His linkup play with Dembélé is improving every match and his decision making has improved tremendously. After the void left by Dani Alves on the right-wing, these are the good signs that eventually we might finally be able to plug that gap. He still has to work on his defensive abilities as he still loses quite a few balls, though his pace makes it up to recover them.
Ter Stegen- 6/10
- He was secure on the ball and VAR helped him retain his clean sheet.
- He was calm on the ball and solid in defence, though he was whistled by the Espanyol fans throughout the match.
- He looked composed on the ball, though lost the ball a couple of times.
- He seems to be getting better every match. Though he needs to still work on his defensive aspects, as he lost a few balls.
- A solid performance, but couldn’t effectively linkup with Messi or Dembélé .
- He misplaced a few passes, otherwise typical Busquets performance.
- A relatively better performance compared to his previous matches. He should have scored the header from Dembélé ’s cross.
- His best performance in a Barça shirt. He was all over the pitch contributing effectively in both attack and defence.
- His killer instincts seems to be coming back, though his shooting still needs accuracy.
- A messi masterclass with goals, assists, dribbles, through-ball’s. Everything you could have hoped for.
Dembélé – 9/10
- His most complete performance for Barça. His decision making is getting better every match and he is cutting out the errors.