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FC Barcelona have been held to a 1-1 draw in the first game back after the World Cup break. After taking an early lead and dominating Espanyol for over an hour, it was natural to suspect that these were going to be a routine three points for the league leaders.
But derbies are derbies, and this one was going to build up to one of the tensest climaxes that the famous fixture has produced in recent years. Espanyol pulled back from the penalty spot and with tempers flaring and cards being brandished left, right and centre, try as they could Barça just could not get the goal they so clearly deserved.
The result means that Barça are now tied at the top of the table with Real Madrid, who won 2-0 at Valladolid on Friday night.
In front of a huge festive crowd of over 88,000 (practically capacity with part of the third tier now missing due to the reconstruction work that was going on during the World Cup), the game got off to the perfect start when Barça turned the early pressure into a goal.
A series of three headers following a corner ended with Gavi nodding the ball from the far post into the perfect path of Marcos Alonso and the home side were already off the mark.
Alonso was on fire, and could have scored a second, as could Raphinha twice and also Golden Shoe winner Lewandowski, the latter enjoying a reprieve after originally being suspended for this encounter.
Espanyol keeper Álvaro Fernández was keeping his side alive. But while all of this was going on at one end, the totally outplayed Espanyol, with just two wins to their name all season, could only produce a single real chance of their own in the first 45 minutes.
But the longer Barça went without extending their lead, the nervier the situation became. Despite continuing to comfortably dominate deep into the second half, Barça couldn’t put the game to bed,
And with 20 minutes to go, Espanyol were level. The goal came from the penalty spot, after Alonso had totally accidentally trodden on Joselu’s foot. A rather soft call, but the referee’s decision stood and Espanyol’s top goalscorer this season had another one for his collection.
Tempers were flaring and World Cup referee Antonio Mateu was producing yellow cards aplenty. It seemed inevitable that somebody would soon be doubling up and that man turned out to be Jordi Alba, on the day of his 300th appearance.
Utter confusion followed, with Espanyol then getting two men sent off in the same play, but a consultation with VAR resulting in Leandro Cabrera getting a reprieve.
This was about as heated as a derby can get, but Barça still had time to go for the kill. They were sailing through the blue and white shirts as if they weren’t even there, and Christensen with a fabulous downward header and Lewandowski through one-and-one both looked to have it… Fernández responded with his two best saves yet.
With only the referee knowing how much time was really left, injury time went on and on, with Barça constantly threatening to score in every minutes. But the Espanyol defence did everything they could and more to hold on against the onslaught, and the game and 2022 ended in a frustrating draw
Barça will be back in action on Wednesday against CF Intercity of Alicante in the Copa del Rey
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