Barcelona, ​​only a draw with Espanyol, overtaking Real vanishes

Marcos Alonso first unlocks then gives away the 1-1 penalty, Blaugrana in the lead but level on points with Real Madrid. In the Valencian derby Gattuso surrenders to Villarreal

Salvatore Malfitano

2023 will start paired at the top. Barcelona falls into the emotional trap of the derby, without responding in kind to Real Madrid’s victory. All a matter of nerves, after all, because the pitch expressed in no uncertain terms the Blaugrana domination over an Espanyol whose merits boil down to the ability to hang on to the game. The tension is already very high before the initial whistle for the Lewandowski case, whose three-match ban was suspended, and increases in the final due to the confusing direction of Mateu Lahoz, who loses control despite the usual rain of cards (13) . Marcos Alonso’s goal, the first in the league with Barça, seems to kick off the party, but then it’s the ex Chelsea who commits the penalty foul on Joselu, who takes care of the goal from the penalty spot.

THE MATCH

Xavi does not give up on the Polish striker in his starting eleven, flanking him with Raphinha and Ansu Fati; green line in midfield with De Jong in the middle of Gavi and Pedri (Busquets on the bench), while Alonso is proposed again in central defence. Martinez, at least in the interpreters, opts for an offensive formation with Braithwaite, Darder and Melamed behind Joselu. However, Espanyol is nothing more than a sparring partner, Barcelona dominates far and wide as confirmed by 72% of ball possession in the first half. Yet, although the possibilities are not lacking, the Blaugrana only convert one of the several chances they had, in the opening match. From a rather dangerous sliding conclusion by Gavi, a corner kick was born: Lewandowski and Christensen headed each other into the area, Marcos Alonso burned Fernandez on the way out and signed the lead (7′). The following chances arise from the flag anyway. Thus it happens to Lewandowski in the 14th minute who fails to corner from a good position and it is also the same four minutes later when Jordi Alba is good at recovering a defiled ball and re-proposing it in the middle, less effective Marcos Alonso who hits badly under measure. Martinez’s team showed up only in the 34th minute, with Melamed looking for a right-footed shot, just wide after Sergi Roberto’s deflection: it was the visitors’ only shot. However, the last word before the interval comes from Barça and from Raphinha: from the edge he tries to surprise Fernandez, the goalkeeper pushes back awkwardly with his chest (37′).

THE RECOVERY

Espanyol is very passive, but the first replacement is made by Xavi. Indeed, in the 51st minute Gavi was forced out due to a physical problem and gave way to the veteran Busquets. Barcelona loses intensity, despite changing the wingers with the additions of Ferran Torres and Dembélé. The offensive production is lower and is reduced to a more beautiful than accurate header by Lewandowski from the heart of the area. Thus, as often happens, the game that is not closed inevitably reopens. The key episode occurred in the 71st minute, when Joselu challenged the defence, lobbed past Christensen and then accidentally bumped into by Marcos Alonso. For Mateu Lahoz it was enough to award a penalty, which the attacker himself converted with a central conclusion. Tempers heat up and the referee puts his effort into it, in fact what happens from 78′ onwards is sensational: Jordi Alba receives his second yellow card in a few minutes, but it is the Espanyol players who remind the referee that he must be expelled. The game resumes and Mateu Lahoz draws two more red cards: Vinicius Souza stops Sergi Roberto’s percussion with a foul, Lewandowski is brought down on the lead with Cabrera who then hits him apparently involuntarily. Souza receives the second yellow, Cabrera the direct red which then an on-field review revokes. The finale with equal numbers finds Barça poured into attack: in the 87th minute Christensen forces Fernandez to make a sensational intervention, the goalkeeper also gets excited a few seconds later when he comes out on Lewandowski. Not enough for the three points and not even to recover the solitary primacy.

Villarreal 2-1 Valencia

The year ends in the sweetest way, for Villarreal, which finds its own modernized stadium and beats the team coached by Gennaro Gattuso in the derby of the Valencian Community. An altogether fair epilogue, because in the second half the formation of the Italian coach never overlooks Reina’s side and the too wait-and-see attitude is betrayed right in the finale. Cavani opened the scoring with a goal from him, an elegant jab in the center of the area, but just before the break Chukwueze re-established parity. When the match didn’t seem to have much to offer, substitute Foyth took advantage of Mamardashvili’s mistake to treat himself to a happy ending.

The match

The Ceramica crowd cheers the Argentinian world champions, Foyth and Rulli, but as with Argentina, neither of them is on the pitch. Setien launches Reina from the first minute, who returns to play a Liga match seventeen years since the last time, confirming Villarreal’s backbone: Albiol in defense, Parejo in the middle of the field, Moreno leading the attack. Gattuso is relying on a very similar formation to the one that had left before the break, with only two differences: Diakhaby in place of Ozkacar and above all Cavani in the trident in place of Hugo Duro.

After only 40 seconds Moreno succeeds in the incredible feat of missing a banal empty-net support on Baena’s suggestion. The attacker then inspires Capoue, who strikes with the defense and kicks, finding opposition from Mamardashvili. Villarreal’s pungent start shook Valencia, who responded in crescendo: Reina first neutralized Lino’s shot at the near post, then got excited by Cavani’s close-range header. The Matador, however, takes his revenge in the 21st minute: the goalkeeper replies a shot by Lino, the ball reaches the Uruguayan who controls and with his left foot he puts it under the cross. Once the disadvantage was suffered, the offensive inertia returned to Setien’s team, who however lost Femenia due to injury; instead of him Foyth. Chukwueze and Yeremy Pino commit Mamardashvili but at the end of the first half it is the Nigerian who brings down the wall: a through ball for Moreno confuses the Valencia line, which leaves Chukwueze isolated, punctually served; the goalkeeper doesn’t even have time to go out and close the mirror that is slipped in.

The recovery

Upon returning from the changing rooms, the rhythms are less frenetic. Gattuso plays the Moriba card in place of Musah in midfield, instead it is Villarreal who create the first danger of the second half. Yeremy Pino maneuvers on the left, unloads to the limit for Moreno who looks for a low shot around, Mamardashvili senses and saves (60′). After the 70th minute, the coaches reveal their cards and refresh the attack in an attempt to win the game. On the one hand Kluivert takes over Lino, on the other Setien sends in Morales and Jackson in place of Chukwueze and Pino. In the 75th minute it was Baena who came close to taking the lead, hurling a loose ball towards goal outside the area, which ended just over. The search for the winning goal was not wild, but it was Villarreal who was awarded, at least in terms of attitude, they offered something more. From a corner from the left, Mamardashvili collided with Diakhaby and Foyth had only to frame the goal with his header. In the 88th minute, therefore, the comeback was served and in full recovery Capoue could even round off the result, but his right-footed shot from outside hits the post. Not bad, in any case: the success remains and the Yellow Submarine can now look more convinced to Europe, which is only one point away.

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Barcelona, ​​only a draw with Espanyol, overtaking Real vanishes


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