The two form teams of Division 1 met in the derby as Espanyol arrived at the Nou camp looking to halt Barcelona’s resurgence in the title race, whilst trying to cement their own hopes of qualifying for Europe. The away team welcomed back Firmino after his three match ban, but were without influential midfield enforcer Wijnaldrum and left back Alonso. Espanyol tweaked their formation to accomodate Firmino’s return and started the game very well.
For the first 20 minutes Espanyol took the game to the homeside with Saul Niguez dictating the midfield and pulling the strings which Barcelona were struggling to contain. Half chances for Niguez and Suarez and bookings for Bellerin and Son were the main highlights of the opening exchanges.
Benzema and Mane then both went clise to breaking the deadlock but couldnt find a way past Handanovic who was once again showing his importance to Espanyol. The breakthrough came in the 40th Minute as one time Espanyol target Odegaard struck a free kick under the wall which beat Handanovic hands down and sent the home crowd wild. It was cruel luck on Espanyol who had more than matched their talented rivals.
The second half was a scrappy affair, as Barcelona continued to kick lumps out of Espanyol which resulted in Lodi being sent off. No further goals came for either team and the result sees Barcelona join Chelsea at the top of the league although second just on goal difference. Espanyol drop down to 10th although are very much in the thick of things in terms of European qualification.
After the game it was revealed that Espanyol’s big signing Firmino who has managed just three games in over a month since signing, picked up a bad injury and will miss at least the next four games, D’ambrosio also picked an injury to add to the clubs growing absentee list.
“on paper it was always going to be a tough ask. We ended up having to change our formation and move players into different positions to the ones which had seen us go on this good run. That being said 1-0 against the reigning champions away from home is not the worse result in the world. I’m growing frustrated with the injuries and suspensions though. Every match we have 2 or 3 key players out and just as one comes back you lose another couple. A team like ours can ill afford to be without the likes of Firmino, Wijnaldrum and Suarez. However since arriving all three have missed more games than they’ve actually played. Hopefully over the next few weeks that can change and all our players can be available for the run in. The table is tight with only a couple of points separating the top 3. I think beyond those three teams, everything is very much up for grabs and its a case of who can put consistency together. We need to get this game out of our system and try and get back to winning ways against Dortmund. At present I dont think many look forwards to playing us. We dont concede many, but have match winners in our squad who on their day can hurt any team. We’ve recieved two interesting offers for Saul Niguez this week as other teams look to improve their line ups for the run in, however we’ve rejected both as they dont meet our valuation. All our business is done for the rest of this season with no ins or outs being santioned. We want to cement our own place in the top 10 and have no interest in weakening the team for the run in”