Barcelona reach 97 points in Catalan derby win

Posted by Francesc Tomas

Alexis Sanchez scores for Barcelona against EspanyolGettyImagesAlexis Sanchez scores for Barcelona against Espanyol

Barcelona achieved a convincing 0-2 win against Espanyol at the Cornella-El Prat in Matchday 37 of La Liga on Sunday. Alexis Sanchez and Pedro Rodriguez scored for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 70 percent of possession, created 10 scoring chances and attempted 10 shots, four on target.

The Deciding Moment – A mere 14 minutes after the opening whistle, Alexis Sanchez beat Cristian Alvarez after a highly skillful effort from the left wing. Barceona's traditional passing game enabled the Chilean to receive from a wide position, throw a diagonal run, combine with David Villa and finish with a calm, accurate strike which ended up unbalancing the game in the Blaugranas' favour.

Key 1 – With the Blaugrana community still discussing the potential effects of Neymar's arrival at the Camp Nou, this was a potentially dangerous away derby for Barcelona. The historical rivalry between the Catalan clubs was reflected in the aggressive way the hosts approached the match, especially as the game unfolded in the Blaugranas' favour in the later stages.

-Vilanova: Neymar chose Barca over money

As predicted, Espanyol players congratulated the Liga champions with the traditional guard of honour before the game kicked off, while the home fans turned their backs not to witness the scene -- a debatable decision, to say the least.

Considering the momentum building in the stadium as a result, I expected Espanyol to come out and bring the game to Barcelona from the start. Surprisingly, they chose to sit back in front of their home crowd and wait for a chance to break on the counterattack instead.

A victory against their arch-rivals would have made Perico supporters forget all about yet another average season, but it wasn't to be. To the hosts' disappointment, the record 50 points difference between the Barcelona city rivals was obvious during the match.

Key 2 – I must admit I was unimpressed that Tito Vilanova once again deprived upcoming La Masia youngsters such as Cristian Tello, Martin Montoya or Marc Bartra of yet another good chance to show their worth at the highest level. Considering the Liga trophy is already resting comfortably in the Blaugrana museum, the coach missed a great opportunity to reward the youngsters' work this season by giving them some well-deserved playing time.

Promoting talented La Masia graduates into the first team was key for former manager Pep Guardiola to build the basis of the current squad. But, unfortunately, we have not seen enough indications of this continuing under Vilanova. While investing heavily in new signings is necessary to stay competitive, it is also crucial to reward youth players with the chance in the spotlight they have been dreaming of for years.

Key 3 – Despite the fact that the team's performance at European level was not as successful as Cules would have hoped, the truth is their jaw-dropping domestic league campaign will be remembered for years to come.

Having already achieved a remarkable 97 points, the opportunity to equal the La Liga all-time record of 100 points is one victory away. The prospect of achieving such an exciting landmark against Malaga at the Camp Nou next Saturday would be the icing on the cake, a perfect ending to an incredibly successful domestic season.

Man of the Match – Alexis Sanchez proved to be a constant nightmare for Espanyol defenders to defend. His competitive nature, attacking vision and defensive awareness seemed to give him an extra edge throughout, frustrating his markers time and time again.

After a fairly poor first half of the season, the Chilean forward has slowly but surely regained his confidence, becoming more decisive as matches went by. The fact he has six goals and five assists in the last seven league matches clearly proves an obvious improvement which, ultimately, could secure him a place in the Blaugrana squad next year.

Blaugrana to Watch – Thiago Alcantara celebrated his 100th game for Barcelona since his May 2009 debut with yet another start, his 14th of the domestic league season. The talented midfielder performed well in the final third, also leading the transition between defence and attack with a highly effective partnership with the gifted Andres Iniesta.

Let's not forget the La Masia graduate could leave the Camp Nou for a mere 18 million euros this summer and, given the obvious interest that major teams such as Manchester United and Real Madrid have already shown in his services, president Sandro Rosell should seriously consider extending his contract as a matter of urgency ahead of the summer transfer window.

The Weakest Link – David Villa missed several close-range shots once again, perhaps trying too hard to be extra precise when a simple tap-in would have sufficed. El Guaje has played 26 Liga matches this season and scored a considerable nine goals, but the fact that he hasn't been preferred for most key matches indicates his importance in the team has decreased considerably.

As much as it pains my soul to say this, his lack of consistent playing time, overall form whenever used in recent games and -- most crucially -- the arrival of Neymar and promotion of Barcelona B top scorer Gerard Deulofeu makes me feel it is now time for El Guaje to further his career elsewhere.

Player Ratings (0-10; 10=best)

Victor Valdes (6)

Dani Alves (6), Gerard Pique (6), Javier Mascherano (7), Jordi Alba (7)

Alex Song (7), Thiago Alcantara (7), Andres Iniesta (6)

David Villa (4), Alexis Sanchez (8), Cesc Fabregas (5)

Substitutes: Pedro Rodriguez (7), Cristian Tello (6), Xavi Hernandez (6)

The Quote – “We’re coming into the end of the season on form. Seeing what we’ve done, and how we’ve done it, says a lot about the team and how eager the players are.” – Tito Vilanova.

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For more news and opinion notes on Barcelona, follow Francesc Tomas at @BarcablogESPN and Facebook; 33,000 Cules have already joined.

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