La Liga: Barca held by Espanyol

Madrid, Dec. 31 (FN Agency) FC Barcelona are level on points with Real Madrid on top of La Liga after being held to a 1-1 draw by local rivals Espanyol on Saturday. Marcos Alonso put Barcelona ahead after just seven minutes, but Joselu’s penalty with less than 20 minutes left to play saw the points shared, although most of the post-match talk will be about referee Mateu Lahoz. The man, who had shown 14 yellow cards and a red card in the recent World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and the Netherlands, was back to his tricks in his first match since returning to Spain, showing seven yellow and three red cards in a chaotic 10-minute period just after Espanyol’s equalizer. Robert Lewandowski was in the Barcelona starting 11 after a court decision to temporarily suspend his 3-game ban. Sergio Busquets and Ousmane Dembele were both on the bench for Barca, while Frenkie de Jong and Ansu Fati started for Xavi Hernandez’s side.

It didn’t take long for Barca to open the scoring, with Alonso nodding home from close range after Andreas Christensen had headed a corner across the face of goal. The first half was controlled almost entirely by Barcelona, whose midfielders were able to move the ball with relative ease. Fati saw a shot saved, Raphinha fired wide and Alonso headed another chance wide. Barca’s best chance apart from the goal came in the 40th minute when Raphinha looked certain to score, only for Alvaro Fernandez in the Espanyol goal to make an excellent save. The home side had controlled 77 percent of the ball in the first half and also looked comfortable at the start of the second, with Lewandowski heading wide when well placed. Busquets and Dembele replaced Gavi and Raphinha, but Barca failed to score a second goal, while Espanyol striker Joselu caused Barca’s defense a lot of problems.

Alonso accidently caught his heel as he jumped in the 70th minute, and Mateu pointed to the penalty spot allowing Joselu to score his eighth goal of the season. The referee then totally lost control of the game, sending off Barca defender Jordi Alba for dissent and then showing Vinicius a second yellow, and a direct red to Leandro Cabrera for supposedly catching Lewandowski on the floor. The VAR then overturned Cabrera’s red.