Barcelona shook off the rust of the international break thanks to a brace from Lionel Messi in a 2-0 victory over city rivals Espanyol on Saturday afternoon at the Camp Nou in Barcelona.
The Pericos were good value for a result until the 70th minute when Messi summoned some of his patented set-piece magic and caressed a left-footed free kick into the Espanyol net. Messi would then put the nail in the Espanyol coffin by polishing off a picturesque counter-attack to give the league leaders another three points.
Manager Ernesto Valverde went with a full-strength starting XI, with Clement Lenglet keeping his spot ahead of Samuel Umtiti and Semedo getting the nod over Sergi Roberto. Despite missing Argentina’s midweek friendly at Morocco with a minor injury, Messi was given the green light for Saturday’s derby affair.
Barcelona came out looking pretty sharp, led by Messi who was pulling out all of his tricks against a five-man Espanyol defence. Yet by the half hour mark it was still goalless due to the solid defending of Naldo and Rosales.
Diego Lopez had to be alert and the former Real Madrid stopper made a reaction save when a Messi free kick was almost deflected into goal by Victor Sanchez.
At the other end Espanyol started to find their footing and a nice cross from Victor Sanchez on the left almost ended with Borja Iglesias stabbing home a shot at the near post.
Rubi’s men increasingly made it difficult for Barcelona to get any kind of penetration and the frustration from the home side was evident went they retreated to the dressing room at half-time stuck in a scoreless draw.
Things stayed the same to start the second half so Valverde went to his bench in search of a spark, bringing on Sergi Roberto for Semedo, while Malcom replaced Arthur, meaning Philippe Coutinho dropped more into midfield.
The Barcelona attack sprang to life and should have scored when Coutinho played a ball into Malcom, but Diego Lopez smartly parried the ball to safety with Luis Suarez lurking at the far post. That was then followed by efforts from Ivan Rakitic and Coutinho that both missed the target.
The contest reached a point when Messi had seen enough and so the Argentine simply decided to take matters into his own hands. After being on the brunt end of a harsh takedown from Victor Sanchez, Messi sculpted a free kick in which he effortlessly lofted a curling left-footed shot that Victor Sanchez tried to clear off the goal-line, but with the soaring Diego Lopez coming into his periphery, the Espanyol man made a mess of it and the ball rippled the back of net for a 1-0 Barcelona lead.
Espanyol were still keen to get a result and ruin the day for the home supporters just like Ivan De La Pena and Raul Tamudo had done in derbies past, but Barcelona would leave no room for late drama by scoring a second.
Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen started a break by hurling a pass forward to Rakitic, who eventually swung a pass out wide left to the charging Malcom. From there Malcom patiently waited for Messi to make his run and connected with the Argentine, who spanked a left-footer in for the 2-0 final scoreline.
2.- Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo (Sergi Roberto, min. 59), Pique, Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur (Malcom, min. 59), Coutinho (Vidal, min. 82), Messi, Luis Suarez.
0.- Espanyol: Diego Lopez; Rosales, Naldo, Hermoso, Lluis Lopez, Adria Pedrosa, Granero, Marc Roca, Victor Sanchez (Alfa Semedo, min. 78), Melendo (Sergio Garcia, min. 66), Borja Iglesias (Wu Lei, min. 64).
Goals: 1-0, min. 70: Messi; 2-0, min. 89: Messi.
Referee: Del Cerro Grande (Madrid).
Yellow cards: Victor Sanchez (Min. 69) for Espanyol, Granero (Min. 72) for Espanyol, Pedroza (Min. 87) for Espanyol.
Red cards: None.
Stadium: Camp Nou.