Lionel Messi-Gerard Pique connection salvages draw for Barcelona
Barcelona came from behind with Gerard Pique's late goal salvaging a 1-1 draw against Espanyol on Sunday, in a spiky Catalan derby on a waterlogged pitch in Cornella.
The Catalans maintained their unbeaten run in La Liga, stretching it to a club-record 22 games, thanks to Pique's 82nd minute intervention, heading home substitute Lionel Messi's free kick.
Stopping Espanyol from recording their second victory in a month over Barcelona, who had gone nearly a decade without suffering defeat against their local rivals. Messi had to play only a half hour in terrible conditions too, with Ernesto Valverde bringing him on from the bench.
Samuel Umtiti, again one of Barcelona's most impressive performers, was booked and will miss the league match against Getafe. The team's inability to create clear openings when trailing was worrying.
Manager rating (out of 10)
7 -- Valverde was able to bench Messi, Ivan Rakitic, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto and still walk away from Cornella with a point. The coach will consider that a decent result because their cushion over their league rivals is such that it makes sense to rest players for the Copa del Rey semifinal second leg on Thursday at Valencia.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- The German goalkeeper reacted brilliantly at the start of the second half to deny Leo Baptistao, although he might have done better with Gerard Moreno's goal on two counts. Firstly, he gave the ball back to Espanyol with a rare poorly placed goal kick, and secondly he got a hand to the ball but it squirmed under him and into the net.
DF Nelson Semedo, 5 -- The Portuguese right-back had a quiet game and again was removed by Valverde for Sergi Roberto, with the coach trusting the Catalan player more both going forward and at the back.
DF Gerard Pique, 8 -- Defended well despite the whistles raining down on him from the start and then headed home from Messi's free kick to earn Barcelona a point and silence the Espanyol boo boys.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 7 -- The French defender was first to everything, saving Barcelona's skin a few times as Espanyol tried to get in behind. He was fouled for the free kick which led to Pique's equaliser too, although an infringement of his own saw him booked, meaning he's suspended next weekend.
DF Lucas Digne, 5 -- Given an earful by Sergio Busquets after some slack defensive work led to the midfielder having to lunge in and take a booking. Cannot offer Alba's threat going forward but was relatively solid at the back otherwise.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 -- The poor playing conditions hurt him more than anyone, given so much of his game is about crisp passing. However, he was still important for the visitors and cut out various Espanyol attacks.
MF Paulinho, 5 -- One burst forward at the end of the first half was all the Brazilian managed, with his form falling off a cliff since the Clasico before Christmas.
MF Andres Iniesta, 8 -- The only Barcelona player who could walk on water. He danced across the sodden surface at the RCDE Stadium like there was nothing wrong with it, sparkling and making a mockery of those who say his time at the top is up.
FW Paco Alcacer, 5 -- Given his first start since injury on the right of the attack, but the former Valencia forward had little impact. Admittedly he was feeding off of scraps in the first half and was substituted for Messi before the hour mark.
FW Luis Suarez, 6 -- Has been in sublime form of late but this game required his battling qualities rather than his skilful side. The Uruguayan forward scrapped and scraped his way through the game, always a nuisance for the defence.
FW Philippe Coutinho, 6 -- Played on the left of the attacking three, which is a better fit for him than on the right side of midfield. Struck the bar with a long-range effort in the first half but his early spark fizzled out in the rain and was a passenger by the end.
FW Lionel Messi, 7 -- One moment of Messi quality was all it took for Barcelona to level, with the Argentine's free kick headed in by Pique.
DF Sergi Roberto, 6 -- It was a difficult game to come into but Roberto did well after his introduction, helping Barcelona keep the ball as they looked for the equaliser.
DF Jordi Alba, 6 -- His main contribution was getting involved in a brawl and having strong words for some Espanyol players as the game broke down at the end.
Richard Martin covers FC Barcelona for ESPN FC. Twitter: @rich9908.