It required a 76th-minute handball decision given against Espanyol’s Javi López for Barcelona to make the breakthrough at Cornellá-El Prat, Messi dispatching the resulting spot kick past Francisco Casilla. Prior to that Gerardo Martino’s Barça – starting Saturday’s fixtures one point behind leaders Club Atlético de Madrid – had struggled against Javier Aguirre’s resolute side.
Although Neymar missed a clear opportunity and Gerard Piqué struck a post, Espanyol were lively themselves through the likes of Pizzi and Sergio García, before having cause to regret the penalty award. To worsen matters for the hosts, goalkeeper Casilla was red-carded late on for handling a Messi chip outside his area.
Meanwhile, Sevilla’s six-match winning streak (and seven-game unbeaten run) was ended by Celta Vigo, who overcame the UEFA Europa League quarter-finalists thanks to Nolito’s 87th-minute penalty in Galicia. If the fifth-placed Andalusians were left to rue Federico Fazio’s handball offence, they could also curse home custodian Yoel for a last-gasp save from Carlos Bacca. Celta climb to 11th in the table.