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Mar 29, 2014

Lionel Messi broke his goal scoring duck at the Estadio Cornello with a brilliantly taken penalty to take Barca's march towards title forward. The award of penalty is going to be the point of discussion this week, especially whether it was a deliberate handball or not. Regardless of that, it is clear that the three points Barcelona picked at their local rivals' home could prove crucial at the end of the season. But there were some uncomfortable questions for Martino to answer, following this tricky win. He may have to clear out whether the decision to continue with Neymar is his or forced upon him. With Valdes out for the season, Pinto started at goal as expected. Alves, Pique, Mascherano and Alba started in defense. I was personally disappointed not to see Bartra in there, but it was understandable as Martino identified this as a tough match. Xavi, Busquets and Cesc formed the midfield. Pedro, Messi and Neymar formed the attacking trio.

The match started in high tempo as expected, Neymar had a brilliant chance in the 4th minute when he was picked up in the box by a Pedro cross. He decided to head it on goal from a tight angle rather than head it to Messi who was in a better position. In the 10th minute Messi had a decent chance to put Barca in the lead but his shot was too weak after put through in the box. In the 15th minute we saw why it's always difficult at the Estadi Cornella, Mascherano was put in a bit of pressure and he gave the ball to Espanyol who and we were lucky that the final ball to Simao was a bit long. In the 17th minute Messi had another chance but wasted it when he put his header over the bar. In the 19th minute a brilliant counter attack initiated by Cesc saw Alves released on the right, he squared the ball the ball to Neymar in the box; but he hit high over the bar in front of the goal. That was the best chance for Barca in the first half. In the 22nd minute Pizzi had a great chance to take the lead but failed after Pizzi failed to finish off a brilliant counter attack initiated via the right flank. The match was played at frantic pace and intensity, and it even caught out with the dug-out with coaches Aguirre and Martino were having a go at each other. In the 39th minute Neymar was unlucky to see his brilliant poke from a tight angle missed the far post. Towards the end of first half, Barca was rocked by constant pressure by Espanyol, conceding corners after corner. The absence of Valdes was seriously being felt luckily the first half ended with no real harm.

Pintois known to have a poor kick and Espanyol players made sure that they put enough pressure on him every time when the ball was played to him. In the 60th minute Pedro made an excellent interception preventing Fuentes from taking a shot at goal from a very promising position. At the hour mark it was clear that we were struggling to create chances and also taking control in midfield. Cecs Fabregas and Neymar were struggling in the match as it was clear that they had to be replaced for Barca to start taking some control. In the 68th minute Pedro saw his header from a Xavi corner safely pouched by Kiko Casilla. In the 72nd minute Lionel Messi and Fabregas combined well in the box, but the back heel from Cesc was a tad heavy allowing defenders to close on Messi. In the 74th minute Pique hit the crossbar from a Xavi corner. In the 75th minute FC Barcelona was awarded a penalty after Javi Lopez after he was awarded to handle the ball. It was pretty harsh as he was airborne and had no option to pull out of that. Lionel Messi stepped up and send Kiko Casilla the other way before finishing down the middle. Tata Martino brought in Iniesta soon after for Pedro. In the 81st minute Neymar was replaced by Sanchez. In the 83rd minute Kiko Casilla was sent off after he came out of the box and handled the ball to stop Messi from scoring. That was a clear cut sent-off. Iniesta's pass was brilliant which put Messi on. Javi Lopez took the goal keeping duty and had to make a save in the 89th minute off Sanchez. He was forced to make yet another save off the same player in the second minute of injury time.

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