FC Barcelona won 0-2 in their visit to Espanyol’s Power8 stadium on the 33rd La Liga game Saturday.

Luis Enrique made one change to his typical starting XI. He started Rafinha instead of Rakitic in midfield, together with Busquets and Iniesta. In defense, Alves, Piqué, Mathieu and Alba played in front of Claudio Bravo. Up front, Messi, Neymar and Suárez formed the attacking line as usual.

Espanyol used a flat 4-4-2. Casilla minded the sticks behind Moreno and González. Arbilla and Duarte played as fullbacks. The midfield line was formed by Vázquez and Alvarez on the flanks, with the pair Abraham and Cañas in the center. Up front, Caicedo and Sergio Garcia played as forwards.

The first half was totally dominated by the culés. The periquitos were waiting for them, without pressing Piqué and Mascherano. Caicedo and Sergio Garcia were mainly focused on preventing Busquets from receiving the ball.

The blaugranas were patient, moving the ball from one side to another without risk of losing it. Messi, as usual, was the one who created danger and destabilized the Espanyol block. Messi dropped to receive the ball and suddenly, two options could be taken.

The first option Messi could take was to manage to turn, eliminate the pressure and face the goal defended by Casilla. Then he would give one of his through balls to Neymar who could then cut inside or decide to open the play to the left flank with Jordi Alba.

The second option was to combine with Rafinha and Alves. The three of them would attract up to five opponents. Thanks to their exquisite technique, they did not lose the ball and then they could pass it backwards to Busquets who would transfer to Iniesta who was unmanned on the opposite side of the pitch.

The No. 8 would then decide where and when to pass the ball, combining with Alba and Neymar in a brilliant first half as you can see from the graph of Iniesta’s passes during the first half (Source: squawka.com).

Once Barcelona managed to push the blanquiazul toward their goal and maintain the ball in their opponent’s half, the positions of the forwards were key. Suárez normally acted as a pure 9, occupying the two central defenders and dropping to act as pivot. Messi would situate himself as a pure No. 10, and Neymar would join them in the central channel and would run fiercely toward the goal.

Barça’s shape was looking much more like a diamond 4-4-2 than a 4-3-3.

Stats confirmed that situation; Leo stayed 66 percent of the time in the center (Source: squawka.com).

FC Barcelona lost very few balls. When they did, since all their players were installed very high inside Espanyol’s half, they pressed quickly with several players at the same time.

Therefore they recovered the ball very fast and in a dangerous zone, or at least they forced the periquitos to play long balls that Piqué, Mascherano and Busquets would win.

After 20 minutes, Espanyol tried a few times to prevent Barça from building from the back. They pressed the central defenders who had no problems in sending long balls toward Suárez. This resulted in Espanyol having the ball a bit more and trying to play from the back as well. But the blaugrana forwards pressed them as well and forced them to play long balls recovered by Luis Enrique’s team.

The first half ended 0-2 with 79 percent of possession for Barça. Espanyol was only able to play seven passes in its opponent’s final third (as can be seen in the graph below from squawka.com) and only managed to shoot for the first time on the 27th minute.

The second half was different since Alba was sent off at the 54th minute. Mathieu substituted Rafinha and played as left fullback. The right interior position was left empty, Messi, Suárez and Neymar playing upfront until Rakitic came in for Suárez and the team finally adopted a 4-3-2. In the last minutes, Xavi entered the pitch for Iniesta and played his 500th La Liga game for the club.

Espanyol was more threatening on the second half but the score did not change. Another victory for Barcelona, with only five games to go until, hopefully, the title.

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