Barcelona avoids 2nd loss to Espanyol with late Pique goal

FC Barcelona's Gerard Pique, left, celebrates after scoring during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Espanyol and FC Barcelona at RCDE stadium in Cornella Llobregat, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

MADRID (AP) Jeered from his first touch of the ball, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique found a way to silence Espanyol fans in Sunday’s Catalan derby.

Pique scored a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw as the Spanish league leader narrowly avoided losing to its crosstown rival for the second time in less than three weeks.

Barcelona extended its unbeaten streak in the league to 22 matches, surpassing the record set under coach Pep Guardiola in 2009-10.

Gerard Moreno put the hosts ahead midway through the second half and Pique equalized with an 82nd-minute header in a heated match at RCDE Stadium.

”We have a responsibility as players, but we are also humans and we react to what happens,” Pique said. ”Part of the crowd was insulting my family. There is a limit to everything.”

Pique had previously made comments criticizing Espanyol, and he was jeered nearly every time he touched the ball. After the equalizer, Pique celebrated by putting a finger in front of his mouth as if to tell the crowd to be quiet.

”These types of situations motivate Pique,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. ”His gesture comes as part of the rivalry that is natural in a derby.”

There were shoves and heated discussions throughout the match, which was played under steady rain and on a heavy pitch.

Messi, who provided the cross for Pique’s header, came off the bench near the hour-mark after getting some rare rest time from Valverde.

Barcelona has a 12-point lead over Atletico Madrid, which hosted third-placed Valencia later Sunday.

Espanyol had ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak with a 1-0 victory in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals on Jan. 17, when Messi missed a penalty kick. Barcelona eventually eliminated Espanyol by winning the second leg 2-0.

After that match, Pique’s tone when talking about Espanyol infuriated rival fans and prompted an official complaint by the club.

The Espanyol crowd was furious after Pique’s celebration on Sunday. Right after the goal, Moreno fouled the defender, prompting a heated altercation between players from both teams. Moreno had to be contained as he tried to go after Pique.

There were also discussions in the tunnel to the changing rooms.

”One player won’t silence our crowd,” Espanyol coach Quique Sanchez Flores said. ”His gesture was what it was. Our fans are above that.”

Pique’s only other goal this season was also against Espanyol.

Messi started on the bench as Barcelona plays at Valencia in the Copa del Rey semifinals on Thursday, when it will defend a 1-0 first-leg win.

”Leo has been playing a lot of matches in a row, we have to be careful,” Valverde said.

DRAW IN DERBY

Leganes and Getafe could not manage more than a 0-0 draw in the derby between rivals based just south of Madrid.

Host Getafe had the best chances, twice hitting the woodwork in a match played under light snow during parts of the second half.

It was the fifth straight game without a loss for Leganes, which rested several regular starters ahead of its game at Sevilla in the Copa del Rey semifinals on Wednesday. The teams drew 1-1 in the first leg in Leganes last week.

Getafe, 10th in the standings, is unbeaten in four matches.

Leganes is in 11th place.

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