Barcelona could very well go into the final day of the La Liga season in control of their own title destiny. Their Catalan Derby match away to Espanyol was arguably their most difficult remaining away fixture, and they squeaked out a 1-0 victory to temporarily go top of the table.
The game took the shape of most Barcelona games away to solid, but not world-class opponents. Espanyol set up in a tight shape, defended well and looked to play on the counter, while Barca dominated possession, but didn't find it easy to create chances. However, they should have led in the 19th minute when Dani Alves served up Neymar for a sure tap-in, but he smoked his shot over the crossbar.
Espanyol had chances of their own on the break, and Pizzi had a miss just as bad as Neymar's a mere three minutes later, when he hit the side netting while one-on-one with José Pinto from an angle that wasn't terribly narrow. Despite that miss, Espanyol were likely pleased to go into halftime tied 0-0, having contained Lionel Messi without much trouble.
Hector Moreno of Espanyol picked up an injury in the first half and was subbed off for Sidnei, but the change didn't hurt the hosts, who continued to defend well and hold onto their clean sheet deep into the second half. But the match turned around in the 75th minute, when Javi Lopez was whistled for a handball in the box. It looked like an unintentional touch and a case of ball-to-hand rather than the inverse, but Lopez's hand was above his waist and the referee pointed to the spot. Characteristically, Messi buried the penalty.
Espanyol's chances of pulling out a comeback were killed off for good in the 83rd minute, when goalkeeper Fransisco Casilla was sent off for handling the ball outside the box. At that point, Espanyol had used all of their substitutes, so Javi Lopez had to put on his shirt and take over goalkeeping responsibilities. Lopez was surprisingly proficient between the sticks, but Espanyol couldn't create any scoring chances with just 10 men on the pitch.
Espanyol: Casilla (red card 83'), Colotto, Fuentes, Moreno (Sidnei 46'), J. Lopez, D. Lopez, Sanchez, Stuani, Simao (Cordoba 78'), Garcia, Pizzi (Alex 66')
Barcelona: Pinto, Alba, Pique, Mascherano, Alves, Busquets, Xavi, Fabregas (Roberto 90'), Neymar (Sanchez 81'), Messi, Pedro (Iniesta 78')
Goals: Messi (penalty 77')