Barcelona’s inspirational away game against Villarreal (4:1) dramatically changed the mood in the Catalonian club. So much that everyone wanted to believe Quique Setien’s pre-match statements, who once again secured the public support of the club president Josep Maria Bartomeu and assured him that it was still possible to overtake Real Madrid, and this was proved mathematically. True, it იs not enough for the Blaugranas to go through the last four rounds without losses – they need the loss of points from Real Madrid as well. Real Madrid have a huge advantage at the finishing line due to face-to-face meetings. We can recall that the first El Clasico ended in a draw (0:0), but in the second one, Zidane’s team managed to beat Barcelona 2:0.
It is difficult to believe that Real Madrid will lose points in the remaining matches. But the intrigues still exist. Quite the contrary, so the revitalized Barça has reason to hope that its pressure on the winner in the last two matches would increase and the leader would finally lose his calm. The Catalans themselves just found it and, despite the fact that the two rounds were separated by only three days, only one replacement took place in their starting lineup.
Rakitic replaced Vidal in the top three central midfielders at 4-3-1-2, but this time it was not as effective as in Villarreal. There, the Yellow Submarines, who approached the Champions League zone, were not afraid to open up, while Espanyol in each derby concentrates the main forces in defense. Another characteristic feature of such matches is the abundance of fouls. Espanyol are basically a tough team, and just after meeting with them because of a series of tackles in the ankle, Hazard needed a pause, risking missing the end of the season.
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While mentioning the Belgian player we cannot escape the fact that he has not found the place in Madrid. In addition to injuries, he is not as effective, as he was in Chelsea, where Hazard was a driver and soul for every attack. His role in Madrid has somehow deteriorated. At some point, he was the best player after Messi and Ronaldo.
It didn’t take long for potential sponsors to start knocking on his door, many of which had connections to the gambling industry. Hazard received dozens of proposals to feature his name or face on multiple casino banners, most of which he refused. But even with the refusal from the player, many online casinos went ahead and started creating campaigns revolved around Hazard himself. These promotions included banners online casino deposit bonus codes and various other enticing options for potential customers. It didn’t take long for Hazard to notice, which subsequently resulted in these campaigns being taken down.
Hazard’s status quickly diminished and what’s more surprising, Zinedine Zidane found out the way to organize the attack of Real Madrid without him.
As for the Barcelona-Espanyol game, the situation of the match somewhat corrected the style of the guests. They violated the rules only involuntarily since each selection was not just to disrupt the opponent’s attack but to start its own counterattack. That is how the first 100% scoring opportunity was organized in the game. Embarba pulled into the area left by Jordi Alba for a long pass, and easily escaping from Busquets, who had no time for the safety net, dragged the ball to the corner of the goal area. If not for Ter Stegen, the visitors would have conceded the goal.
Espanyol near its own penalty area did not leave space for the opponent, having built two lines of defense. At the same time, the three central midfielders were located very close to the line of defense, and it is obvious that this part of the plan of Francisco Rufete was directed personally against Messi. Barcelona’s captain could not accelerate to beat one of the forwards, and attempts to get through the picket fence due to a short pass did not bring any result.
In addition, Messi hardly found alternative options, since other traps were placed on the flanks. The extreme defenders of Espanyol constantly sank in line with the three players in the center of defense, not giving space for the inclusion of Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedp. As a result, the Blaugranas did not have a single right moment for the break, since Suarez’s attempt to hook the ball over the goalkeeper and the free-kick Messi was pulled only by a promising approach. In turn, Espanyol almost caught the second chance in the counterattack, but Ter Stegen incredibly reacted to a cut from Lenglet’s foot, and Didac Vila’s finishing shot fell into the post.
What happened on the field was partly reminiscent of a draw of Barcelona against Sevilla. There Setien did not find a plan B. Now, if there was one, the trainer’s idea was spoiled by the ejection of youngster Ansu Fati, who came out instead of the defender Semedo. The youngster was let down by an excessive desire to prove himself, and he was so eager that he received a direct red card. Nevertheless, only three minutes later, after a similar violation against Pique, Lozano went into the locker room, and a completely different game began. The “10 against 10” format turned out to be in the hands of Barca, as the guests no longer had time to cover all the zones, and the performing skills of the Blaugranas are easiest to implement in operational space. As soon as it appeared, Griezmann, Messi, and Suarez did what was required. So the Uruguayan became the third player in the history of the club (195 goals) after Messi and Cesar Rodriguez.
The rest was already a matter of technique, which Barca had in abundance, while the loser for the sixth time in a row, Espanyol did not have reserves to bring a change into the game. Barcelona not only continued the pursuit of Real Madrid, reducing the gap from the leader to one point but also received moral satisfaction. The principal rival is beaten in La Liga matches exactly 100 times and will go to the second division for at least a year.
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