Sunday , July 21 2024

Barcelona edge closer to La Liga title

Suárez brace, Messi free kick paces Barcelona to 5-0 win vs. Espanyol.

Barcelona are just one win away from their 24th La Liga title after a 5-0 win over Espanyol on Sunday afternoon at the Camp Nou.

With their nearest rivals in the table, Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid, playing at the same time, Barcelona were keen to avoid a repeat of the famous “Tamudazo” of 2007 when Raúl Tamudo’s stoppage time goal against Barcelona at the Camp Nou earned Espanyol a 2-2 draw in the penultimate week of the 2006-07 La Liga season, which ultimately lost Barcelona the league title.

Outside of a few nervy moments in the first half, the victory was never in doubt for Barcelona, who roared to life in the second half to dominate their crosstown rivals. Lionel Messi opened the scoring with a dazzling free kick goal in the eighth minute, while Luis Suárez added a brace in the second half with goals in the 52nd and 61st minutes, before Rafinha and Neymar scored in the 74th and 83rd minutes, respectively.

By virtue of Levante’s stunning 2-1 win over Atlético, only Real Madrid remain as a challenger to Barcelona’s crown. Los Blancos were 3-2 winners over Valencia and are one point behind Barcelona, who sit on 88 points heading into next week’s finale at Granada. Real will travel to Galicia to face Deportivo in the final week.

The injury sustained by Claudio Bravo at the end of Barcelona’s win at Betis last week paved the way for Marc-André ter Stegen to start in goal. Otherwise, it was all the usual cast of characters in Luis Enrique’s starting XI.

Just two minutes in Barcelona quickly found themselves behind; not in the match but in the table as Atlético Madrid striker Fernando Torres struck against Levante to push Los Colchoneros into the first place. However, Barcelona came out in fine form against their city rivals and Messi struck inside of 10 minutes to give a 1-0 lead and restore Barcelona’s first place standing. The Argentine was fouled just outside the area, and moments later he curled a brilliant left-footed free kick that went curling past Espanyol goalkeeper Pau López and into the top right corner of the goal.

Minutes later Barcelona thought they had scored a second when Ivan Rakitic tapped in from a yard out after a Messi shot had been blocked, but the linesman adjudged that the Croatia international was offside. Television replays showed otherwise, but the call stood.

Neymar looked to equal Messi’s feat with a free kick of his own from 23 metres out, but the Brazilian missed the target. Neymar’s samba spirit was on full display though, as his daring rabona minutes later drew a round of ooh’s and aah’s from the Camp Nou. Unfortunately it went for naught as neither Messi nor Suárez was able to connect.

Espanyol, as they so often is the case in this derby match, were a tough foe and efforts from Felipe Caicedo and Pape Diop, including a shot that forced a deep headed clearance from Gerard Piqué, tested the nerves of the Camp Nou.

Things grew testy and chippy as the first half wore on, as Espanyol were very physical in their football, not shying away from making a hard tackle. It evoked memories of the two teams’ heated Copa del Rey tie when Espanyol finished the first leg with nine men and Diop and Suárez traded insults.

Barcelona came out in the second half looking to pad their lead and Suárez was able to provide the necessary cushion with a fine finish past López. Dani Alves alertly stepped up and quickly fed a pass to fed Messi, who found an onside Suarez unmarked and the Uruguayan handled things from there with a rocket of a right-footer to stretch the lead to 2-0.

Smelling blood, the home side looked to ice the match with a third score. Barcelona started to enjoy their football as they used a dizzying array of passes to bewilder the Espanyol defence in search of a goal. Yet the 3-0 lead would not come from any fancy playmaking but from a corner kick, as a Neymar inswinger from the right was headed in by Suárez just after the hour mark. For Suárez, it was his 37th league goal of the season, one more than Espanyol have as a team.

Espanyol all but gift-wrapped Barcelona’s fourth goal when, just seconds after coming on, Rafinha had the easiest of shots after López bobbled a ball in from Neymar that should have been easily saved. The ball fell right to Rafinha who calmly swept into an open net to make it 4-0.

Barcelona capped off their day with a fifth, as Rafinha slipped a pass to Suárez on the right and the cross from the former Liverpool man allowed an easy stroke into goal for Neymar at the back post to complete the 5-0 scoreline.

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