El Centrocampista

ESPANYOL 1-1 BARCELONA: TACTICAL ANALYSIS – Pochettino plays his cards right

Barcelona’s hopes of retaining the La Liga title were dealt a serious blow in the Catalan derby last night as they were held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at neighbours Espanyol.

The home side took to the field with their regular 4-2-3-1 system but Pochettino favoured Thievy Bifouma over Alvaro Vasquez up top, whilst Barcelona used their new 3-4-3 system again, though it is always a struggle trying to pin players down to a specific position in the Barcelona system.

The game started with Espanyol taking the game to their more illustrious opponents with a fantastic chance falling to midfielder Joan Verdu but his first effort was saved by Valdes and his second attempt cleared off the line by a frantic Gerard Pique – and this sprung Barcelona in to life after a subdued start.

A poor pass by Espanyol keeper Cristian Alvarez was intercepted by Lionel Messi and tapped home by Cesc Fabregas – only for the referee to deem that Messi handled the ball in the build up and the goal was chalked off.

But just minutes later, Fabregas did get on the scoresheet with a superb header from the edge of the box, latching onto a cross from the right with a perfectly timed run. It’s this feature to the Barcelona team which has made Fabregas such a success at Barcelona so far. Fabregas is consistently making great runs into the box and is getting the goals to go with it.

The constant changing of positions is what makes Barcelona so difficult to play against, and it really showed as the two holding midfield players for Espanyol, Juan Forlin and Romaric really found it tough to track the Barcelona players, even though it seemed like Barcelona weren’t at full speed throughout the first half.

The second half began with Espanyol again trying to get in Barcelona’s faces and rile their opponents and at times it really worked, especially on Lionel Messi who was uncharacteristically quiet for the away side. Sergio Garcia looked to support Thievy more from the right hand side but the main change in the game came when Pochettino made the bold move to go with two strikers.

Romaric was sacrificed and on came Alvaro Vasquez, a young striker who has made a reputation of being dangerous inside the 6 yard box – and this rang true as Vasquez equalised in the 86th minute from close range.

What was frustrating for Guardiola about this goal as just moments before the strike, he had brought on Seydou Keita in a bid to offer the team a bit more stability, sacrificing some attacking prowess in the process.

One more chance did arrive for Barcelona as Pique hit the crossbar as he was thrown forward, and Pedro’s rebound effort was clearly handballed – to the dismay of Guardiola and the Barcelona players.

But one thing was really striking about the game. The age old suggestion of ‘get in their faces’ is starting to work. We saw at Bilbao and now tonight. Barcelona didn’t seem happy with some of the challenges from Espanyol, especially from Romaric in the first half. The Ivorian should probably have seen red but somehow got away with some ferocious challenges.

The result will have no doubt pleased Mourinho and his comrades in the capital, but there is work ahead for Guardiola after this encounter.

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