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Three talking points from Espanyol 2-2 Barcelona



Photo via Getty Images

Local derbies are often the most passionate, hard-fought, physical, yet emotional football games. The concept of two teams from the same city facing off creates rivalries between members of the same locality. The Catalan Derby is one such match that once again lived up to its billing on Sunday night.

The game witnessed three red cards, nine yellow cards, four goals, multiple VAR checks, and a whopping 27 fouls.

The two teams were relentless, and both had a fair shot at three points. In the end, a stalemate in Cornella saw Barcelona drop two crucial points and just about cling onto their lead over Atletico Madrid.

1. The Traore-Pedri show

Adama Traore made a fabulous return in the Blaugrana colours against Atletico Madrid, where he wreaked havoc on the right-wing. On Sunday, Xavi gave the Spaniard the same role but in a slightly different setup.

The unavailability of Dani Alves forced Xavi to play Sergino Dest at right-back. The change in personnel meant that Traore would no longer have an efficient partner on the wing who could make underlapping runs. While Dest still played as an inverted full-back, his inexperience in the position was intelligible.

Yet, Traore went on with his business undisturbed. The winger attempted seven dribbles, of which five were successful, helping the team break through Espanyol’s deep defensive block.

He provided two key passes and won 18 duels in a display that stamped his authority on the flank. Unsurprisingly, it was his last-minute cross that led to Barcelona’s equaliser on the night.

While the 26-year-old ran the show in attack, Pedri was the star in midfield. The teenager scored the opening goal of the night with a sweet strike in the first minute.

Pedri and Traore left no stone unturned. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

Though Frenkie de Jong had an average display by his standards, Pedri covered for his midfield partner. Additionally, he also assisted Gavi’s disallowed goal in the second half.

With his vision and defence-splitting passes only getting better with every game, Pedri is no longer superb for a 19-year-old, but a superb player for anyone, at any age.

2. The Aubameyang-Luuk dilemma

When Barcelona were looking for a way ahead in the second half, Xavi opted for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to come on as a substitute. The Gabonese striker could not make a proper debut against Los Rojiblancos after Alves’ red card, and one hoped that Sunday would be the night for Aubameyang to rise.

However, the former Arsenal captain managed only five touches in his 28 minutes on the field. He registered no shots and never looked close to a position of scoring. While his talent is undeniable, Aubameyang does need some time to familiarise himself with the system and what is expected of him.

Aubameyang is still catching up to the style. (Photo via Getty Images)

Enter Luuk de Jong. The Dutch striker came on in the 88th minute for Pedri and, just six minutes later, was already celebrating his goal. He knew exactly where he had to be and what to do in the dying minutes of the game.

Luuk has seen a magical resurgence in form under Xavi, and one wonders if he should be played over Aubameyang at this stage of the season.

The presence of Adama Traore on the wing also boosts de Jong’s stocks, as he has the right profile to capitalise on the Spaniard’s tantalising crosses. Heading into the clash against Napoli, Xavi has a real dilemma at his hands — Luuk de Jong or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

3. Gerard Pique’s unnecessary sending off

Barcelona are holding onto fourth place in the league standings by the skin of their teeth. At this stage, every game is a must-win for them to remain in the running for a Champions League spot.

The last thing Xavi would want in the current scenario is to be faced with a deficit of personnel to cover a position.

However, a lapse of concentration from Pique has resulted in exactly that. The Spaniard prompted the referee to show him a second yellow in the last quarter of the game, and will now miss the team’s clash against Valencia.

Avoidable. (Photo via Getty Images)

What makes the situation worrying is that Ronald Araujo, Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti are all injured while Dani Alves is suspended.

While the centre-back’s frustration is understandable, his red card could worsen Barcelona’s position in La Liga. For the game at Mestalla, Xavi has only Eric Garcia fit as a centre-back and must choose one of Oscar Mingueza or Frenkie de Jong to cover. Moreover, it will have a direct impact on the Catalans’ game against Napoli midweek in the Europa League.

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