Barcelona narrowly avoided a first LaLiga defeat of 2017-18 as Gerard Pique popped up to secure a 1-1 draw at Espanyol.
Gerard Pique was a deeply unpopular goalscorer at Espanyol as Barcelona battled back to preserve their unbeaten LaLiga record with a 1-1 draw on Sunday.
This clash was the rivals’ third meeting in two and a half weeks after Barca prevailed 2-1 over two legs of a closely contested Copa del Rey quarter-final last month.
Pique prompted an Espanyol complaint to the Spanish Football Federation after the first leg of that tie following comments he made disputing the clubs’ rivalry over the location of Espanyol’s stadium.
It looked as though the home fans would have the last laugh at a sodden RCDE Stadium when Gerard Moreno got in ahead of Pique to head home Sergio Garcia’s excellent cross midway through the second period.
Seemingly with one eye on Thursday’s Copa semi-final second leg against Valencia, Ernesto Valverde opted to start Lionel Messi on the bench and the Argentine genius had only been on the field seven minutes when Moreno struck.
Barca seemed to be heading for a first LaLiga loss under Valverde as the saturated pitch prevented the leaders implementing their slick passing style but the equaliser arrived via a more conventional route as Pique rose highest to head home Messi’s free-kick eight minutes from time.
Pique, whistled throughout the contest, signalled for the home fans to be quiet and he was subsequently involved in an altercation with Moreno in the closing stages as the defender revelled in his role as the pantomime villain.
The relentless downpour seemed to slow the early stages as the opening 20 minutes were something of a damp squib before Philippe Coutinho almost lit up an otherwise drab affair.
Receiving the ball towards the left of the box, the Brazilian worked space for a 20-yard shot which had Diego Lopez comfortably beaten before it crashed off the crossbar and away to safety.