Key highlights as Barcelona narrowly defeat and relegate Espanyol

The Periquitos are condemned to the Spanish second tier after 27 years!

Barcelona laboured to an unconvincing win over Espanyol in the Catalan derby as Luis Suarez struck the only goal of the night at the Camp Nou. The result also confirmed Espanyol’s relegation from La Liga for the first time since 1993.

With so much at stakes, both sides unsurprisingly fought tooth and nail but the gulf in quality eventually came to the fore. Let’s look at the major talking points:

Espanyol set up to absorb pressure and hit Barcelona on the break

The Blanquiazules knew Barcelona are going to dominate possession and be on the offensive like always. So they were just content to sit back and absorb pressure while hitting them on the break.

Espanyol set up in 5-3-1-1 off the ball with striker Raul de Tomas upfront and Adrian Embarba right behind him. As the hosts pushed bodies forward relentlessly, this left plenty of gaps at the back, and these two, who were often released by a long ball from the midfield, looked to capitalise with swift counters.

This ploy almost yielded an early opener for the visitors when Embarba was played clean through on goal in the 11th minute, but his effort flew agonizingly wide. Even though Espanyol couldn’t source more clear cut opportunities like that, they were a thorn in the flesh of their mighty neighbors with those menacing counters.

‘MSG’ combine forces to strike again

Unlike in the 4-1 thumping of Villarreal last time, Barcelona’s stellar attacking triumvirate of Messi, Suarez, and Griezmann weren’t allowed too much space by the stoic Espanyol. This rendered them ineffective for most of the match, especially in the first half with Messi merely dropping hopeful punts forward for Suarez to conjure something.

However, they weren’t to be denied for long as the ‘MSG’ combined in the second stanza to make the difference. Jordi Alba found some space down the left and released Griezmann, who made a backheeled pass for Messi to strike, but his effort was blocked by Diego Lopez. However, the ex-Real Madrid ‘keeper could only parry it into the path of Suarez and the No.9 got to the end of the loose ball to bury it into the net.

Finally some right VAR calls

With Barcelona fighting to keep their fading title hopes alive and Espanyol going hell for leather to survive the drop, the match was bound to heat up. So the tipping point arrived early in the second half when Ansu Fati, who was only subbed on four minutes earlier, was sent off for clattering into Fernando Calero with his studs-up, after the referee reviewed the incident on the VAR screen.

Just minutes later, the visitors too were down to 10 men after Pol Lozano was sent for an early bath for a similar challenge on Gerard Pique. He was initially shown a yellow, but the referee once again consulted the pitchside monitor and turned it to red. On both occasions, the foul was blatant and totally deserved the sending off. So for once, the VAR calls were undebatable.

Espanyol’s relegation signals the end of an era

The white and blues fought valiantly last night, but couldn’t prevent themselves from going down and the fate was decided – for the first time since 1993, the club has been relegated back down to the ‘Segunda Division’, bringing the end to an amazing era at the club.

In the intervening 27 years, Espanyol had reached the UEFA Cup final, the Copa Del Rey final, the Spanish Supercup final, and even played in the Champions League, making this one of the most memorable period in the top-tier in the club’s history.

The Periquitos have only ever been relegated four times before, and on each occasion, they managed to claw their way back into the first division in the next year. In fact, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Athletic Bilbao are the only Spanish clubs with more appearances in La Liga than Espanyol, an enduring testament to the club’s high stature in the country’s footballing landscape.

They still have games to Eibar, Valencia, and Celta Vigo before seeing off the season, but it hardly matters now as the damage is done and the club looks to rebuild in the second tier next season.