De Jong sent off as Espanyol and Barcelona draw in Catalan derby

Frenkie de Jong was sent off in the second half as Barcelona was held to a 2-2 draw by Espanyol in the derby.

Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong   -  Getty Images

Barcelona failed to regain its two-point lead at the top of La Liga after Wu Lei scored a late equaliser for Espanyol in a 2-2 derby draw that saw Frenkie de Jong sent off for the visitor.

The champion fell behind 23 minutes into a contest it dominated but in which its best football was rarely in evidence against the division's bottom club.

Thankfully for Ernesto Valverde, Luis Suarez was at his lethal best, instinctively making it 1-1 shortly before he brilliantly teed up Arturo Vidal for Barcelona's second.

 

But after De Jong was shown a second yellow card, Espanyol ramped up the pressure and Wu clinched a precious point for La Liga's bottom club as he became the first Chinese player to score against Barca in a competitive game.

The result leaves the champion level on points with Real Madrid at the top of the table at the midway point of the season.

Barca was punished for its tepid start to the game when Marc Roca floated a free-kick into the box where David Lopez lost his marker and beat Neto with a glancing header into the far corner of the net from 12 yards.

The visitor dominated the ball as it so often does in La Liga but failed to threaten until five minutes from half-time when Lionel Messi headed into Diego Lopez's arms shortly before Suarez toe-poked a low shot onto the outside of the post.

The equaliser came swiftly after the restart, Jordi Alba landing a deliciously weighted pass onto Suarez's instep, and the Uruguay international's first-time finish tucked the ball just inside Diego Lopez's near post.

Suarez somehow managed to better Alba's cross when he deftly chipped the ball with the outside of his right boot to substitute Arturo Vidal, whose powerful header bulged the net despite Diego Lopez getting a hand to it.

 

He got both hands to Suarez's next shot, a powerful rising drive from 12 yards after Messi put him through, the Espanyol keeper palming the ball away from danger.

De Jong received his second yellow card for a shirt-pull on Jonathan Calleri and Espanyol exploited the additional space with three minutes left.

Matias Vargas played Wu into the area and the China international rifled a low shot into the left corner of the net from a tight angle to rescue a point that his side deserved for its perseverance and bravery against new coach Abelardo's old team.

What does it mean? Entertainment and points in short supply under Valverde

As long as Barca is winning, Valverde's slow, suffocating style of play will be tolerated by the Blaugrana faithful.

But the champion has won just one of its past four league games while playing poorly and if it falls behind Madrid in the title race there will be calls for the coach's head.

Suarez turns the tide

All it took was two touches from Suarez to change the game: one to steer Alba's pass into the net and one to carve out an unmissable chance for Vidal. Suarez's incisiveness covered for quiet performances from Messi and Antoine Griezmann, but it was not quite enough.

Fati fancies Griezmann's place

With Ousmane Dembele injured, Griezmann was an obvious choice in Barcelona's front three but the France international's latest quiet game that will add weight to the calls for teenage winger Ansu Fati to be given more opportunities.

Key Opta Facts

- Wu Lei has become the first Chinese player to score against Barcelona in a competitive game.
- Luis Suarez has been involved in each of Barcelona's past 10 goals in La Liga (four goals and six assists).
- Frenkie de Jong has been sent off for the first time in 78 games in the Eredivisie (59) and La Liga (19).
- Barcelona has just won three out of its seven La Liga games without Marc-Andre ter Stegen on the pitch since the 2016-2017 season (W3 D2 L2). That's 42.8 per cent without him compared to 72.2 per cent with the German keeper.
- The last time Lionel Messi made as many shots without scoring than against Espanyol (five shots) in a La Liga game was against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in March 2019 (six shots).
- Barcelona's Antoine Griezmann has played 15 games against Espanyol in La Liga without providing an assist, more than against any other opponent in the competition.

What's next?

Barcelona is in action in Jeddah on Thursday when it faces Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semifinals, while Espanyol has over a week to recover before its Copa del Rey clash with Segunda Division side SS Reyes on January 12.

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