Barça ease past Catalan rivals
Barcelona moved within a whisker of their third successive La Liga title with a 2-0 victory over Espanyol in tonight's Catalan derby at the Nou Camp.
Andres Iniesta gave Pep Guardiola's side the lead just short of the 30-minute mark and Gerard Pique headed a second three minutes into the second period to give Barça a routine win over their local rivals and see them move to within reach of another title.
"In general terms it was a good game against a side who always cause us problems," said Guardiola. "The league is now very close and it is down to us."
With Real Madrid thrashing Sevilla 6-2 at the Sanchez Pizjuan yesterday, Barcelona were unable to clinch the title in this match, but the win saw Guardiola's side stay eight points clear with only nine left to play for - while they also boast a superior head-to-head record in the games against Mourinho's men.
Javier Mascherano slotted in alongside Gerard Pique in central defence for Barça, with captain Carles Puyol not even on the bench, while Andreu Fontas began at left-back in the absence of injured pair Adriano and Maxwell, with Eric Abidal deemed unfit to start the game.
Iniesta tested Carlos Kameni with a low drive after 20 minutes, but the Espanyol keeper reacted superbly to push away the midfielder's effort. Lionel Messi then came close as he got away from two defenders and charged into the right-hand side of the area, but he dragged his low drive across the face of goal and failed to test Kameni.
It was something of a subdued start from the home side, given their usual high standards, but Iniesta opened the scoring with a fine goal - his eighth in the league this season - after 29 minutes. The Spain international won the ball back on the left, beat Jordi Amat, advanced into the area and fired a fierce low shot past Kameni and inside the keeper's near post to make it 1-0.
David Villa should have made it 2-0 eight minutes later, but the striker inexplicably fired wide from close range with only Kameni to beat. Pedro almost made it 2-0 as well when he went clear on the right moments into the second half, but Kameni produced a fantastic save to push the forward's effort wide.
From the resulting corner, however, Kameni got his positioning all wrong and Pique was allowed to head home virtually unchallenged at the near post. At the other end, Dani Osvaldo was causing the Barcelona defenders some problems, but the Argentinian striker was too often lacking support. Though, Osvaldo did test Victor Valdes with one angled effort after 57 minutes, but the Barça keeper saved comfortably at his near post.
With just over 15 minutes remaining, Barcelona looked set to go three up when Messi and Iniesta combined and the latter set up Villa, but Espanyol defender Raul Rodriguez got in front of the striker and hacked the ball clear.
The game lost intensity after that, but there was never any doubt about the result and Barça now need just a point at Levante on Wednesday to confirm a third successive title. For Espanyol, meanwhile, it was a blow to their European hopes; Mauricio Pochettino's side are four points behind sixth-placed Atletico Madrid with only three games left.