After having squandered a nine-point lead at top of the table with three consecutive defeats against Real Madrid, Real Sociedad and Valencia, Barça had managed to stop their free fall with more goals than game versus Deportivo, Sporting and Betis. Despite those recents scoresheets, the fuss in Barcelona during the last week was the memory of the “tamudazo” and not Espanyol’s abysmal record in their last visits to the Blaugrana pitch.

But after the emotional farewell to Manel Vich, the Camp Nou’s speaker during almost 40 years, the match early phases made it very clear that Espanyol were far off from repeating that feat. Whether because one side was playing for a league title and the other just for the pleasure of spoiling it or because the team is finally recovering its form, the culés first minutes had been better than what we witnessed during April.

Constantin Galca organized his men in a very tight 1-4-1-4-1 formation, attempting to steer the culés game towards the flanks in order to prevent through passes between the lines. But if that well-executed plan had meant trouble for Luis Enrique’s men in previous clashes, this time around the big distance between the two four-men lines left Cañas too isolated in the middle and Barça had always known how to overcome those lines by taking advantage of that space.

For this to happen it was very important the improvement in the build-up plays and the confidence conveyed by the four men backline alongside Sergio Busquets. Today, we didn’t see that fragility which made the entire team tremble after every lost ball, Espanyol’s lack of pressure on the man with the ball has enabled to move it with patience and therefore they could make the combinations which eventually benefited them when some rival player lost his position in order to advance meters and close in on the opposite area.

Messi’s superb free kick goal in the 8th minute bolstered the match dynamic up to that point. Barça has played even more calmly, Espanyol’s players always marked the ball receptor without timing and that meant a streak of harsh tackles and their subsequent bookings which could have seen Hernán Pérez receive his second yellow card. Before the quarter hour, Rakitic has sent the ball to the back of the net again but the goal has been wrongly disallowed for a non-existent offside position. Afterwards, Duarte had to tackle Messi inside the area but the referee didn’t point to the penalty spot and they reached halftime with the minimum advantage for the culés.

After the halftime break, Alves (who was very accurate during the match) has cut off a pass by Diop, combined with Messi and the Argentinian assisted Luis Suárez to double the lead and reassure even the most pessimistic culés. The Uruguayan scored again ten minutes later after a corner kick, in a play where he got rid of his marker by shoving Javi López but the referee didn’t see this action either and with the third goal the match was virtually finished.

Espanyol left Caicedo on the bench at halftime who was their only offensive weapon and they ultimately gave up during the last half hour of the match, enough time for Luis Enrique to provide some playing minutes to Rafinha, Arda and Mathieu, for the Camp Nou stands to mock Pau López after a monumental mistake by the Espanyol’s goalkeeper and for Neymar to score the fifth goal assisted by Luis Suárez in another play started off by Alves.

Meanwhile, the Camp Nou crowd heard about the unpredictable victory of an already relegated Levante side against Atleti and Valencia’s second goal at the Santiago Bernabéu with ten minutes left to be played was even giving some hope of being able to celebrate the league title without having to wait for the last matchday. Real Madrid’s win against Valencia forces Barcelona to have the same outcome in their game versus Granada as Madrid’s visit to Deportivo but according to what we have seen yesterday this situation surely will bring more optimism to the City of Counts than the one lived in the previous days. Since the defeat against Valencia, Barça have won four straight games with 21 scored goals and none conceded but above all they finally seem to have recover their self-esteem and cast away the doubts which made them look so vulnerable. They will have to prove that at Los Cármenes facing a Granada squad which are on a roll and celebrating their confirmed spot in the Spanish top flight. One last Final to win the most battled league in recent years.

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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Xavier Codina.