The derby between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol proved to be a fitting Camp Nou send off for head coach Pep Guardiola. The last home game of the season and of Guardiola’s tenure as coach could have been an underwhelming experience with the league already lost to the rivals in Madrid. However, the players, the opponents, and the crowd refused to let the goodbye be anything short of moving.
Guardiola again continued to field a more relaxed lineup. His focus was on giving Pinto minutes before the Copa del Rey final and Messi opportunities to improve his astronomical scoring record this season. Montoya, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Keita, Busquets, Thiago, Iniesta and Pedro joined the goalkeeper and striker.
The first action of the game was a caution. The yellow card to Forlín for a challenge on Iniesta in the fifth minute foreshadowed the parade of bookings to come throughout the game.
It was another foul that led to the first goal. Messi stepped up to a free kick just outside the box in the 12th minute. His strike took a slight deflection off the wall but sailed straight to the top right corner and past Espanyol’s outstretched goalkeeper. La Pulga dedicated his goal to the soon-to-be-former head coach by pointing to the bench.
Busquets was the next to be booked in the 21st minute. The free kick he conceded amounted to nothing. Espanyol’s Sánchez soon followed in the referee’s book for a 30th minute offense.
The rest of the half wound down without much more excitement. Barcelona entered the locker room a goal up on its crosstown rivals. With just 45 minutes left to play with Guardiola’s presence on the Camp Nou bench, culés hoped for a few more blaugrana goals to really cement his legacy at the stadium.
The second half started off fairly uneventfully. Barcelona still dominated possession and had the majority of the goal-scoring opportunities, but could not seem to tally any more goals. In the 60th minute, Espanyol made its first substitution when Javi López came off for Gómez.
Just three minutes after the change, the new substitute handled the ball in the area after a Messi strike and conceded a penalty. Gómez, Didac, and Álvarez earned yellow cards, one for the discretion and the other two for dissent. Messi, of course, took the spot kick and unwaveringly sunk his brace.
The 66th minute saw Keita replaced by Cesc for Barcelona and Coutinho come on for Álvaro. Less than ten minutes later in the 74th minute, Messi captured his hat trick by classically beating his defender and angling the ball inside the far post.
Just after the goal that gave Barcelona a 3-0 lead, Adriano made way for Tello in the 78th minute. In that same minute, Busquets was fouled in the box and the referee gave another penalty to Barcelona. Messi was the only choice to take the opportunity and he again beat the ‘keeper. That was his 50th league goal.
Xavi switched with Iniesta in the 79th minute. Tello also found his way into the referee’s book in the 85th minute. Puyol joined him shortly after in the 89th minute. When the final whistle blew, Barcelona had won by four goals to nil, all courtesy of the same diminutive forward.
What was meant to be Guardiola’s show turned into Messi’s, which was maybe the way El Mister wanted it. Although the moment was bittersweet for various purposes, the players showed that there are still reasons to be hopeful for the seasons to come without Guardiola. The club should savor these last moments with Guardiola at the helm. But ultimately, there will always be even better things to come.
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