Three goals and 3 very important points should be the biggest take-away from the match at Espanyol. As disappointing as it is, Real Madrid, winning at the death (again) courtesy of a fine Marcelo effort ensured that the destiny of the league title is still very much in their hands. That being said, had Barca stumbled at all against their local rivals the title race would have officially been over, so credit where credit is due to the players for grinding out a good result.
The biggest news regarding the starting line-up was, of course, Neymar’s return from suspension. The Brazilian will have been itching to get back on the pitch having missed the Blaugrana’s last 3 games, and will be a welcome addition for Lucho for Barca’s remaining games.
The Brazilian looked a bit rusty from the get go as Espanyol started well and actually had the first chance of the game. You could practically hear the collective gasp from the Barca faithful, as the team has looked extremely shaky in away games. With the recent losses against Juventus and Malaga fresh in memory, an early goal would have been detrimental for the nerves.
That, thankfully, never transpired and Barca managed to settle into a good rhythm. There were a few decent chances for Neymar, amongst others, but in spite of Messi’s best creative intent the two teams went in even at the break.
Scoring in the second half was now a must, and if I could have hand-picked one person who needed to score in this game in particular my first choice would have been Luis Suarez. Although the Uruguayan is second in the Pichichi charts (behind only the best player to grace a football pitch), he hasn’t had the most memorable season and has been on somewhat of a drought recently. Make no mistake, he still makes contributions to the important moments of each game, but he’s been lacking that killer touch all strikers thrive on recently.
With a little help from the Espanyol defence, all of that changed. A loose back pass was snapped up by the ever-hungry striker and a great outside-of-the-foot finish gave Barca the lead in the second half. Many underestimate just how valuable Suarez’s off-the-ball contributions are, so this goal would have helped silence those doubters.
We had a lead but with our away form and suspect defence a one-goal lead was never enough. Lionel Messi was obviously thinking the same when he ran through the Espanyol defence and set up Ivan Rakitic for a simple goal. 2-0, and with the game done and dusted Luis Suarez managed to snap up another poacher’s goal to well and truly get back amongst the goals.
As a game set apart from other games, this is what we, as supporters, expect from the Blaugrana away from home. The fact of the matter, however, is that this season our away form has cost us dearly and may mean that we end up losing the title to Los Blancos for the first time in Lucho’s reign. There are still a few games to go and as long as we’re not mathematically out of the race there is still hope, but the focus should always be on us and how we are performing as a team. As long as we’re winning and playing well we should be happy as fans, and if that’s not enough we always have Lionel Messi to provide us with moments of magic like only he can.
Photo by David Ramos/Getty