Barcelona held 2-2 at last-place Espanyol in Catalan derby
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — China forward Wu Lei scored late to give Espanyol a 2-2 draw against 10-man Barcelona in Saturday’s Catalan capital derby between the best and worst teams in the Spanish league.
Barcelona’s third draw in four rounds left it level on points midway through the season with second-place Real Madrid, which beat Getafe 3-0 hours before. Barcelona kept the league lead on goal difference – and Espanyol remained last – after 19 of 38 games.
The Spanish league said Wu is the first Chinese player to score against Barcelona. The substitute got the equalizer for Espanyol with two minutes remaining after Luis Suárez had played a key role in putting Barcelona 2-1 ahead. Espanyol was helped when Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong was sent off for a second yellow card with 15 minutes remaining.
“The hardest thing to do is to turn a game around when playing on the road,” Suárez said. “I leave feeling we let these points slip away. Of course, when a rival plays with an extra man, it gets a boost. But that can’t be an excuse.”
Suárez canceled out David López’s first-half goal by scoring in the 50th with a precise touch of the tip of his right boot to steer Jordi Alba’s lobbed pass between goalkeeper Diego López and his near post.
Suárez’s assist for substitute Arturo Vidal to give Barcelona the lead nine minutes later was just as impressive. Suárez first dribbled around a defender before using the outside of his right boot to flip a pass across the box for Vidal to head home.
Barcelona was heading for a comeback win until Wu broke free down the right side of the area to receive a pass from Matías Vargas and drove an angled shot past goalkeeper Neto.
The gutsy performance by Espanyol came in the debut of coach Espanyol coach Abelardo Fernández, a former Barcelona defender, who became the club’s third coach of the season last week during the league’s winter break.
Espanyol remained winless in 10 home league matches this season, but its players and fans treated the draw as a great victory over its fiercest rival.
“(It’s) a turning point for these players who have suffered so much,” Abelardo said. “They gave it their all against a great team. The expulsion of De Jong helped us, but my team was never out of the match and deserved the point. If we compete like this, we will be hard to beat.”
Abelardo has a reputation for taking over troubled teams without star talent and making them competitive from his previous stints at Sporting Gijón and Alavés.
Neto made his second start of the season for Barcelona in place of injured goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who is expected to be sidelined for around a week with a tendon problem.
Neto could do nothing to stop David López from putting the hosts in front in the 23rd when he sent a glancing header of Marc Roca’s free kick just inside the far post.
Barcelona didn’t threaten to score until just before halftime, when Suárez hit the goalframe.
Suárez pulled the visitors level with his 11th league goal this season when he was left unmarked in Espanyol’s only mistake of the match.
Vidal, sent on at halftime by coach Ernesto Valverde, scored his sixth goal for Barcelona — most as a substitute — this season.
Suárez went close to scoring after Lionel Messi coasted past four defenders before setting him up, only for Diego López to save the Uruguayan’s shot in the 65th.
Barcelona, Madrid, Atlético and Valencia will travel to Saudi Arabia to contest the new-look Spanish Super Cup next week.