Barcelona’s league title celebrations almost ended in serious trouble when Espanyol fans breached security, invaded the pitch and ran after the newly crowned champions, chasing them down the tunnel. Fortunately some of the players and staff, dancing in circles on the pitch having defeated their city rivals 4-2, spotted them coming just in time and they were able to outrun their pursuers, forced to continue festivities from the safety of the dressing room instead. As they escaped, there were some confrontations between home supporters and security staff, as well as protests aimed at the directors’ box.
La Liga winners for the first time in four years, Barcelona’s party had barely been going a minute but Xavi Hernández had already begun telling his players to make way just before the stampede started. It was, the coach said, a question of “respect”. He knew what this meant: for himself, lifting a first major trophy and for everyone. Opposite him in the other dugout was a friend and class-mate from his coaching course, experiencing very different emotions. If success and failure, triumph and despair, coexist in every game, it could hardly have been expressed so clearly as it was in Cornella.
A very late Espanyol goal denied Barcelona the title in 2007 and when they went down in 2020 they did so at Barcelona’s ground, but there has been no derby quite like this, vital for both teams and at both ends of the table. Top since week 14, way back in October, recent results had meant Barcelona would be champions with a victory here, which would have been significant enough but it would also leave Espanyol cut adrift, four points from the last safe spot with four weeks to go.
“There’s so much at stake for us, more than for them. Not even winning the league compares to this: this is your prestige, your job, your people’s suffering,” the Espanyol coach, Luis García, had insisted – and that, he said, had to show. Instead, what showed was the distance between the teams: 19 places and 51 points at the start, 54 by the end. This was not just a defeat but a destruction.
Two goals from Robert Lewandowski and one each for Alejandro Balde and Jules Koundé put Barcelona out of sight, easing to the title with half an hour left and four more games to spare. Although Espanyol pulled two back, from Javi Puado on 73 minutes and Joselu on 92, they never made a match of this and many of their fans were no longer there to see those goals.
The first chance had sat up for Joselu after only 11 seconds and those opening minutes were frantic, bodies flying in everywhere, but the rebellion didn’t last. The derby was 10 minutes in when Robert Lewandowski dashed towards the near post to score the opener, forcing the ball over the line with his knee, every inch the No 9. Balde had made that and he scored the second, reaching Pedri’s lovely clipped cross to finish 10 minutes later. With Espanyol overrun Raphinha then delivered for Lewandowski to slide in the 21st of his first season before half-time.
This has been Lewandowski’s title, certainly before Christmas when his goals were so often decisive. It has also been Marc-André ter Stegen’s title, and it felt right that he should then appear just before half-time: arms wide, chest out, he saved from Martin Braithwaite and he would make similar stops from Puado and Joselu, the only opponent to have scored at the Camp Nou this season.
By then, though, Koundé had added Barcelona’s fourth. Although Puado cleverly scooped in, it was greeted with applause rather than a roar and Joselu’s late strike was no consolation.
The second Barcelona conceded here was only the 13th they have let in all season, the first league win of the post-Messi era secured in the home of their city rivals, supporters setting off down the Ramblas to celebrate properly.