Barcelona maintained their 10-point lead atop the La Liga table courtesy a second half brace from Lionel Messi, as they beat Espanyol 2-0 at Camp Nou.
For much of the game, Espanyol managed to keep their local rivals at an arm’s length, with Ivan Rakitic coming the closest to finding the back of the net for the hosts in the first half. Barcelona did amp up the pressure post the break, but only had frustrations coming their way.
A particular save from Diego Lopez from Malcom’s shot sent alarm bells ringing, as fears of a draw grew. But, it was Barcelona’s captain and talisman who stepped up to the plate once again, as after winning a free-kick on the edge of the Espanyol box, Lionel Messi produced an outrageous chipped free-kick that outfoxed the back-tracking Victor Sanchez.
The win was then sealed off in the penultimate minute of regulation time as Messi doubled his and the hosts’ tally, with Malcom providing a perfectly-timed assist. The win meant Barcelona maintained their 10-point lead at the top of the La Liga table, with Atletico Madrid winning later in the day. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Ernesto Valverde’s men.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 6/10
A normal day at work for ter Stegen, who barely had anything to do apart from making a couple of regulation saves. Typically reliable with the ball at his feet as well, helping Barcelona build up from the back effectively.
Nelson Semedo: 7/10
Semedo was one of two Barcelona stars who were the most enterprising players on the pitch before the deadlock was finally broken. A constant outlet down the right flank, he was unable to produce a moment that changed the match despite trying his utmost, although that was due to no fault of his own. Quite a surprising substitution that saw him being taken off for Sergi Roberto.
Gerard Pique: 8.5/10
The in-form defender for Barcelona, Pique continued his rich vein of form, backing his cheeky cockiness in the build-up to the game with a solid performance. The veteran Catalan did not give Borja Iglesias an inch and even popped up in the final third, having been given the license to embark on adventurous runs.
Clement Lenglet: 8.5/10
Selected ahead of Samuel Umtiti once again, Lenglet vindicated Valverde’s decision by producing a colossal performance at the heart of the Barcelona defence. The Frenchman never slacked off and was alert to the threat to clear the ball away in a last-ditch attempt when Wu Lei needed only a touch to score. Deservedly ahead of his compatriot in the pecking order.
Jordi Alba: 6/10
Usually one of the strongest performers in the final third for Barcelona, Alba seemed to be missing a step on Saturday. While he continuously bombed down the left flank, the end product was not there to be seen as consistently as he usually produces. Nevertheless, it was a decent enough showing.
Ivan Rakitic: 7/10
The second of the aforementioned enterprising duos. Rakitic has to count himself unlucky for not having found the back of the net with two thumping efforts in each half. Kept things ticking in the middle of the park otherwise and was always available to help out defensively as well. Continues to remain consistent.
Sergio Busquets: 6/10
As has been the case lately, Busquets looked off pace for parts of the game. But, the veteran Spaniard was also up to the challenge posed in the midfield, remaining solid in front of the backline. Showed good awareness while on the ball.
A somewhat underwhelming display by Arthur, who was unable to pull the strings in the middle of the park as effectively as he usually does. Seems to struggle against sides that park the proverbial bus, which is something he needs to address. A player of his class will surely find a way around that.
Lionel Messi: 9/10
Sometimes, words just fail to describe the genius that is Lionel Messi. While the Barcelona captain was not quite in his elements for much of the first hour of the game, he still did look the most dangerous of threats for his side.
And, when the moment demanded it, the Argentine genius produced a piece of magic, unleashing a “Panenka” free-kick that left Victor Sanchez dumbfounded despite his excellent backtracking run. Messi then rounded off the win with a precise finish, which was not as easy as he made it look.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 30, 2019
Now up to 41 goals for the season, he has breached the 40-goal mark for the 10th successive season. Again, words just fail to describe Messi sometimes.
Luis Suarez: 6/10
Braving injury, Luis Suarez made himself available. But, the effects of his fitness trouble were evident on the day as Suarez was not as sprightly as he usually is all through the game. His trademark deceptive off the ball movement was missing, which ultimately meant he struggled to break down the Espanyol defence and had no part to play in the win.
Philippe Coutinho: 5/10
For the umpteenth time, Coutinho just could not get going as a season to forget continues to get worse for him. Showed a lack of understanding with his teammates in the final third and posed no danger whatsoever in the front three. Looked better when playing in midfield, which is where he needs to be deployed.
On for the struggling Arthur, Malcom made all the difference, driving Barcelona forward at pace. Came close with his smart effort only to be denied by Diego Lopez. But, he produced one of the moments of the game when he took his own sweet time to perfectly set up Messi for the second goal of the game. Proved that he needs to be trusted more by Valverde.
Sergi Roberto: 6/10
On for Semedo, Roberto was a bit of a downgrade on the Portuguese, offering very little threat on his bursts down the right flank.
Arturo Vidal: N/A
Came on for the last ten minutes, helping Barcelona see the game out.