In a game that would have appealed to the traditionalists, Espanyol and Barcelona played out a gritty 1-1 draw amidst pouring rain that left Espanyol’s home pitch almost unplayable.
Espanyol took the lead thanks to Gerard Moreno’s header and for a while it looked like Barcelona were headed for their first La Liga defeat of the season. But Gerard Pique, who has had a needling relationship with Espanyol’s fans, scored a late equaliser to ensure it was honours even in the Barcelona derby.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
FLOODBATH OVERCOMES FOOTBALL
By the end this barely resembled a game of football, with a rain drenched pitch covered in standing water completely preventing any kind of constructive passing football and forcing both teams into a hopeful hit and hope long game.
Naturally, this suited Espanyol far more than Barcelona, who had to abandon their usual approach of building out from the back in the fear that the ball would become stuck in one of the deep puddles that liberally littered the centre of the pitch.
After the home team grabbed the lead through Moreno’s excellent header it was hard to see how Barca would get back into the game considering the difficulties they had in constructing attacks, and in truth it would have been impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions even if they had lost. But their persistence to find a way to score was a tribute to their character, and a draw was the right result from a full blooded game full of desire but understandably lacking in attacking quality.
PIQUE TAKES CENTRE STAGE
Gerard Pique has long been public enemy number one among Espanyol fans, with his forthright political views and eagerness to poke fun at his near neighbours always assured of provoking ire.
The central defender had further enraged the home supporters before kick off by joking that Espanyol are not even from Barcelona at all but Cornella, a suburb of the city where their new stadium is located.
So it was entirely predictable that he was furiously whistled every time he touched the ball from the opening whistle and throughout the game, and equally expected that he played a pivotal role in the outcome by securing a point with an excellent header.
He was then on the receiving end of a violent challenge from Espanyol scorer Gerard Moreno which really should have resulted in a straight red card but only led to a yellow, and then nearly came to blows with the home team striker after making a comment to him before play restarted.
By the end of it all the whistles and jeers against Pique were louder than ever, and there’s no sign of a thaw in his relations with his crosstown rivals.
VALVERDE OUTPACES GUARDIOLA
The draw set a new club record as Barcelona recorded their 22nd game without defeat, outstripping the 21 games achieved by Pep Guardiola’s team in 2009/10 as the longest unbeaten start to the season in club history.
Beating a record set by Guardiola is quite a coup for Valverde, was initially met with indifference after his appointment but has now quickly earned the respect and admiration of his new team’s fans for his perceptive and intelligent management.
Valverde has been able to instil a much greater collective team structure during his half-season in charge, with his team’s results reflecting their solid organisation all over the pitch. And on this occasion they had to show their ability to adapt, with the unplayable nature of the flooded pitch in the second half prohibiting Barca’s preferred style of play.
And although they eventually earned a point more through sheer guts than style, that kind of never say die character will be crucial in determining whether they can end the season by replicating another of Guardiola’s achievements: winning the treble.