Thursday, 7 January 2016

Messi Magic Stumps Espanyol


Barcelona secured a comfortable 4-1 win over nine-man Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey round-of-16 clash at the Nou Camp.

Espanyol took an early lead through former Manchester City forward Felipe Caicedo, but Barcelona replied thanks to Lionel Messi's first-half brace.

The Argentine talisman turned provider as he set up Gerard Pique to put the hosts 3-1 up and Neymar added a late fourth to give Barcelona a commanding first-leg lead.

In a fiery encounter, referee Juan Martinez Munuera dished out 11 yellow cards and two red cards as both sides looked to claim bragging rights in the Catalan derby.

The home side handed summer signing Arda Turan his debut after the club's transfer ban had been ended on Monday. Their other high-profile signing, full-back Aleix Vidal, started on the bench.

The two teams played out a goalless draw in the Primera Division on Saturday, but the hosts were on the front foot as Espanyol goalkeeper Javi Lopez's smothering block denied Neymar from giving them an early lead after eight minutes.

But Espanyol, who reached the semi-finals last year, took a shock lead moments later when Marco Asensio pounced on Dani Alves' wayward pass before teeing up Caicedo, who calmly slotted past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Luis Enrique's side equalised immediately equalised when Andres Iniesta picked out Messi with a through ball and the Argentine made no mistake in beating the advancing Lopez.

Caicedo's night ended early, however, as a leg injury prompted Espanyol boss Constantin Galca to make a change before the break, with Joan Jordan replacing him.

Messi then produced a moment of magic three minutes from half-time. Substitute Jordan impeded Turan from 30 yards out to concede a free-kick before Messi stepped up to beat Lopez with a wonderful strike that curled over the Espanyol wall and in off the underside of the bar - his 19th goal of the season.

Barcelona raced out of the blocks in the second half and grabbed a third when Iniesta spotted Messi's run on the left byline, before he picked out Pique to score from three yards.

The evening got worse for the visitors on 72 minutes when Hernan Perez picked up his second caution of the game after an off-the-ball incident with Jordi Alba and they were down to nine men three minutes later, this time Pape Diop was given his marching orders for arguing with the referee.

With two minutes to play, Neymar and Messi played a neat one-two just outside of Espanyol's penalty area, before the latter picked out the Brazilian with a lofted ball and the forward beat Lopez with a first-time volley.

The next leg will be played next Wednesday at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat.
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