Piqué saves Barça from derby defeat


Centre-back’s goal maintains Barça’s unbeaten status and earns them a point despite drab performance

A goal from Piqué, just a few minutes from the end, meant FC Barcelona avoided defeat against RCD Espanyol Cornellà, in a rain-soaked derby. The Barça centre-back, whose confrontation with the Blanquiazul faithful is now public, celebrated by raising his finger to his lips and telling the fans to be quiet. The goal meant the Azulgranas continue unbeaten, even after putting in one of their worst performances for a long time.

Valverde, thinking about the second-leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final tie against Valencia in midweek, benched Messi for the first time all season. He put Coutinho up front alongside Luis Suárez and Alcácer and chose to use Semedo and Digne as full-backs, as he had done against Alavés last weekend. Barça had the ball from the start, but lacked cutting edge. They did not bother Diego López until halfway through the first half, although when they did, they really meant it, with Coutinho firing in an amazing shot that crashed on to the crossbar.

Baptistão responded immediately, with a hard shot from the edge of the area that Ter Stegen could only hold on to with difficulty. After that came Espanyol’s best spell, with the Brazilian threatening in the box. He had another great chance, but headed a centre from Marc Navarro wide of the mark.

Quique Sánchez Flores’ side grew as the minutes ticked by, and pressured Barça relentlessly. They were on the point of catching Ter Stegen out again, after Gerard Moreno robbed Piqué, and the centre-back was only able to respond with a clumsy lunge on the breaking Baptistão. That was a textbook yellow card offence, except referee Gil Manzano did not want to know, and did not even blow the foul. He was more on the mark early in the second half when, on advice from his assistant, who indicated to him that the ball had gone off the pitch in the build-up, he disallowed a goal scored by Gerard Moreno.

Barça continued to play a long way from their opponents’ area, and as time passed the whole pitch became increasingly swamped. With little more than half an hour to go, Valverde sent on Messi, for Alcácer, and Sergi Roberto for Semedo. Espanyol also made moves from the bench. Shortly after coming on, Sergio García sent in a superb cross to Gerard Moreno, who did not miss this time, thudding a header past Ter Stegen. It was most definitely one of those games best played in the air rather than on the (waterlogged) ground, as Piqué’s equaliser, also a header, showed.