01.11.13 Barcelona v Espanyol
The day after roast chestnuts and Halloween, FC Barcelona took all three points from the local derby with Espanyol. The game was decided by a Neymar assist for an Alexis Sánchez who is enjoying his finest season yet for the club. The Chilean had already played a key role in the clásico and in Tuesday’s game in Vigo, and once again found the back of the net in this bank holiday encounter. Thanks to him, a more passive and practical Barça than we are used to seeing were able to claim another full set of three points. In total, that’s now an astonishing 34 out of 36. FC Barcelona did all they could in the first half, but got nothing out of it. They were superior in every aspect of the game and completely dominated the possession but simply couldn’t find a way through the superbly compact defense deployed by Javier Aguirre. Espanyol simply held their lines at the back and looked for loose opportunities to mount the occasional counter attack. The only place where Barça did seem to be finding gaps was down Alves’ wing, with the Brazilian giving Torje a nightmare of an evening, but never quite managing to get his crosses to connect. Alves was also the protagonist of two incidents, one at either end of the pitch, in the space of little more than a minute. In the FCB area, a misunderstanding with Valdés almost gifted a goal to ex Barça man Víctor Sánchez, but Valdés saved the day by pulling off a tremendous save. Moments later, Alves tried to make amends with a powerful strike from the edge of the Espanyol area, but the ball struck the post. The game reached half-time scoreless, but with no major reason for alarm among the Barça ranks. And in the second half they finally sorted things out. The football was a lot slicker and electric than it had been in the fitrst 45 minutes as Barça stepped things up a gear in search of the Espanyol net. It looked like Messi had scored from a header, but Casilla pulled off an absolutely extraordinary save, and Neymar also came close from outside the area. The ball just didn’t seem to want to go in. But Espanyol’s luck didn’t last forever. In the 67th minute, a delightful assist from Neymar, nutmegging both Raúl Rodríguez and Sidnei in the process, gifted a virtual tap-in for Alexis Sánchez, who was waiting unmarked at the far post. The two men who scored in the clásico had done it again. The goal obliged Espanyol to push forward in search of a leveller, and the last twenty minutes saw plenty of action at both ends of the pitch, but there was no further score. We certainly didn’t see Barça at their best tonight, and Espanyol produced a plucky performance, but nevertheless there is little doubt that the it was a thoroughly deserved win for the home side, whose unbeaten record continues.