FC Barcelona did not score against Espanyol and it was the first league game in which they have not netted since February 21, 2015. That was a 1-0 defeat by Malaga in the 24th game week of the 2014-15 season. Since then they had gone 30 games without failing to find the net (14/16).
However, Barcelona also failed to score against Athletic Club in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup final, which they lost 4-0, and also in the Copa del Rey first leg against Villanovense, which they drew 0-0.
In La Liga, FC Barcelona have an average of 2.35 goals a game (40 in 17 games), and over all competitions 73 in 30 games, 2.43 per match.
Barcelona’s title hopes stuttered on Saturday as they were held to goalless draw in the Catalan derby against Espanyol at Cornella-El Prat. In their first game of 2016, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez failed to click into gear and Barça could end this round of fixtures two points back from Atletico Madrid, albeit with a game in hand.
Under the management of Constantin Galca, who replaced Sergio Gonzalez at the end of last year, the hosts had a very clear plan. They stuck to it for the entire match, denying Barça space, working hard and, occasionally, playing dirty.
Messi and Suarez both hit the woodwork, but the home supporters would certainly have felt hard done by to have lost the game. Pau Lopez’s work in goal was never too taxing, although Claudio Bravo wasn’t too busy, either.
So for the second year running, Barça begin the year dropping points. Although this time it is far less dramatic than last year’s one-goal defeat to Real Sociedad at Anoeta.
Espanyol made an intense start to the game, pressing every Barcelona touch as they went in search of their first league win against their city rivals since 2007. As the half developed, though, that intensity and aggression became dirtier. Alvaro Gonzalez, Javi Lopez and Joan Jordan were all booked – and there could have been more, too. Victor Alvarez and Pape Diop joined them in the book in the second half.
However, that didn’t prevent the home supporters from enjoying the match. They were on the edge of their seats every time the powerful frame of Felipe Caicedo collected the ball, but chances were few and far between.
It seemed to take forever for Barcelona’s front three to come into the game and it wasn’t Messi, Neymar or Suarez who had the first chance. Instead, it was Jordi Alba who arrived at the far post to fluff a Suarez ball wide. Suarez then turned a Messi free-kick wide, although the flag had already gone up.
At the other end a series of corners brought plenty of drama. Handbags between Alvaro and Javier Mascherano led to a booking each, before Bravo’s blushes were spared when Gerard Pique bundled the ball off the line after the Chilean had fumbled a corner.
As the half grew older, a Messi free-kick rebounded off the cross bar – it was the 16th time Barça have been denied by the woodwork this season and five of those attempts have been the Argentine’s. Andres Iniesta – who was perhaps the most industrious player on the pitch in the opening period – fizzed wide as the first 45 minutes ended goalless.
There was much more zest about Luis Enrique’s side at the start of the second half and it looked like a goal was on the horizon. Neymar saw an effort blocked from six yards after some fantastic work from Suarez, with a Messi strike deflected wide for a corner moments later.
However, that spell proved fleeting and they almost fell behind on the break. With Alba out of position, Hernan Perez galloped forward past two men, but his shot crept wide of Bravo’s far post.
Sticking with the post theme, Suarez then struck Espanyol’s at the other end. He collected Ivan Rakitic’s looped pass, left Pau on the floor and then, with the goal gaping, managed to strike the woodwork. The angle was admittedly slightly tight, but the Uruguayan wouldn’t normally be so kind.
As far as chances went, they were surprisingly limited from then on. Galca’s side persisted with their rough and tumble approach and Barça seemed affected – especially Neymar. The Brazilian’s best chance came in the 75th minute, but his acrobatic effort was saved easily enough by Pau.
And even inside the last 10 minutes, there was little to suggest Barcelona would steal the points. Messi sent a free-kick wide after Sergio Busquets had been clattered and when the board went up advising there would be two minutes of injury time, it was Espanyol doing the attacking. Marco Asensio’s cross was just too long for Javi Lopez, though, but that didn’t matter – Cornella-El Prat was happy enough to celebrate a well-earned point.