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FC Barcelona have been beaten for the first time ever at the RCDE Stadium, and their unbeaten run of 29 games has also been brought to an end, after Espanyol sprung a late shocker to snatch a 1-0 win in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey first leg.
It was certainly a setback to suffer the first defeat in 154 days, and even more so at the home of their local rivals, but Ernesto Valverde can take consolidation from the fact that it was by no means the result that his side deserved, and they have another 90 minutes at the Camp Nou next Thursday in which to make amends.
Barça can also take heart from Rafinha coming on as a 77th minute substitute for his first competitive outing since getting injured against Granada nine months earlier.
First half stalemate
The game commenced with all the typical intensity of this famous rivalry. As expected, Barça were enjoying the vast majority of the possession, while Espanyol’s approach could often be best described as ‘physical’.
Almost all the action in the first 45 minutes was inside blue-and-white territory, but the home side managed to limit the blaugrana to little more than half chances and a possible penalty claim.
Indeed, it looked like the parakeets’ main priority was preventing Barça from getting an away goal, ith the odd timid attempt to sneak a goal of their own on the counter attack.
It was game in desperate need of a goal to open things up, and moments before the break Denis Suárez came the closest yet to giving us one, but his effort failed to hit the mark.
The second half began by following the same script, with Barça slowly trying to wear down the Espanyol defence in a largely uneventful encounter.
But the hour mark produced the incident that changed the momentum of the game. Esteban Granero trod on Sergi Roberto, the referee pointed straight at the spot, and Leo Messi stepped up to take the penalty.
The Argentinian struck the ball well, but goalkeeper Diego Lopez timed a perfect dive to nudge it away. The home fans, who had fiercely protested the penalty decision, celebrated as if their side had just scored a goal.
The incident also breathed new life into Espanyol. It was no longer a case of one-way traffic, and Jasper Cillessen was getting called more and more into the action.
Their confidence grew and grew and with three minutes on the clock Óscar Melendo was on the end of a Marc Navarro assist and Espanyol had taken an unexpected lead.
There was little time left for Barça to react, at least on the night. Fortunately, Copa del Rey games are two-legged affairs and with home advantage in eight days’ time, Barça’s bid to win a fourth consecutive title is still very much alive.
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