RCD Espanyol 0 – 0 FC Barcelona

Now that’s put the cat amongst the pigeons. After everyone from analysts and commentators to Geoffrey Boycott’s grandmum had all but handed the La Liga title to FC Barcelona after they broke into the Bernebeu last week and broke all those Madrid hearts, they go and draw away at a side that’s 14th in the league, sitting on 37 points (less than half of Barca’s 83).

But this isn’t just any side, of course. It’s Espanyol, the Catalan cross city rivals. And, to be honest, Barca were lucky to escape the brand new Estadi Cornella-El Prat with the solitary point.

Espanyol pressed from the first minute to the last, in a display that Real Madrid would do well to take notes from. Instead of attempting to disrupt Barca’s play and then shoot aimless balls forward, Espanyol came to the stadium with a plan, and stuck to it: press, press, press, dispossess, break. Wash, rinse, repeat.  Rarely have I seen Lionel Messi marked as well. The Espanyol defence kept him locked up, unable to go off on those mazy little runs of his that usually end with defenders flat on the floor, goalkeepers crying on their mothers’ shoulders, and the ball in the back of the net. But not only did Messi only get to set off on perhaps three, maybe four, excursions, he hardly even got to engage in any meaningful interplay with Xavi, Pedro, Busquets or Dani Alves (who, by the way, was sent off about halfway through the second half) – Espanyol won the battle for the midfield not by dominating possession (they didn’t), but, incredibly, by limiting Barca’s passing options, hurrying the forward pass, and, crucially, shutting down Valdes and his easy passes out of defence to Pique, Milito or Puyol.

The next sentence is going to look fairly impossible, but bear with it, because despite its apparent impossibility, it is, nonetheless, true: Barca never looked settled. If anyone was looking for a blueprint on how to beat Barca (someone who goes by the name Jose Mourinho, for example), this was it. If Espanyol had a more lethal cutting edge, this game would have ended at least one- or two-nil.

This post, for those of you who care, by the way, was supposed to be about Xavi, and how he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Instead, I find myself analysing a draw that has me dumbfounded. This distresses me, and I don’t like to be distressed when discussing Barca. I love them too much.

So what happens next? Well, Real Madrid host Valencia tomorrow night (Sunday) in what already promised to be a cracker. It is now doubly significant, for if Real manage to put Valencia away, they’ll close to within one point of the league leaders (that one point is actually more like two, because head-to-head’s take precedence in the Spanish league, therefore meaning that if Barca and Real were to end on an identical points tally, Barca would win). Valencia been through a patchy run of form themselves at the moment, but the win against an in-form Athletic Bilbao will lift them . . . that, and the fact that they’re playing Real Madrid. I suspect that Pep may just be phoning Unai Emery, Valencia’s coach, as we speak, with tips. A few pointers. Some terribly ingratiating comments on how he’s always admired him, and how it would be such a help if Valencia at least held Real to a point, as they did Barca earlier in the season.

Madrid, of course, will be up for it. They may not be the prettiest, they may be lucky, and they may be a bunch of overpaid Franco-loving Galacticos who think money can buy you footballing greatness a team of talented individuals who have not had the time to properly gel together, but if there’s one thing Real Madrid do well, it’s fight and scrape out results, sometimes against the odds.

La Liga just got interesting again.

– el kapitan

One of these men is ecstatic. I’ll give you a hint: his last name starts
with a ‘P’, and ends with a ‘ochettino’.
To add insult to scoreless
draw, he’s also clearly better looking than Pep.

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