Camp Nou, Barcelona – It was 14:49 on Sunday afternoon – just 26 minutes before the scheduled kick-off time – when FC Barcelona released the following statement “FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression. Given the exceptional nature of events, the Board of Directors have decided that the FC Barcelona first team game against Las Palmas will be played behind closed doors following the Professional Football League’s refusal to postpone the game.”
Sunday was the day of the unofficial independence referendum in Catalonia – a historic day in Spanish politics. As protests and demonstrations in the region increased during Sunday morning, confusion began to take hold about whether the match at the Camp Nou would go ahead as planned. Barcelona believed that the match should be postponed due to the extraordinary events in the city and they were the reports being communicated an hour or so before the game.
The consensus was that this match was to be played at a later date and then, the team sheets arrived in the press box. The league and security forces hadn’t seen any reason as to why the encounter should not go ahead and so gave Barcelona the option of playing the match or abandoning the fixture with the points going to Las Palmas. Given that the players were on the whole happy to play and that an abandonment would lead to a deduction of points for the Catalans; the Barcelona board, reluctantly, gave the game the go-ahead. Fans were not allowed in, however, as a gesture of disagreement with having to play. Questions have to be asked of the league who scheduled the game to be played on this day of all days – also on Saturday Sevilla–Malaga was played at 16:15 local time in temperatures higher than thirty degrees and the match suffered because of it – the leagues scheduling of matches deserves scrutiny.
As the whistle blew for kick-off there were still around eighty thousand fans sitting on the curbs of the streets surrounding the Camp Nou – confused, disappointed, annoyed. The stands were empty, only pieces of A4 paper with the team line-ups on them were occupying the directors’ box. But there were still twenty-two players on the Camp Nou turf and two managers in the technical area – Pako Ayesteran was one of them and could not have dreamt of a more chaotic first matchday in charge of Las Palmas.
Las Palmas though did thrive and frustrate Barcelona in the first-half – the absence of the home crowd allowed Las Palmas time to feel their way into the game – and they almost took the lead when Jonathan Calleri struck the post. Barcelona did have a couple of chances themselves in the opening half – Messi had a free-kick saved by Chichizola and Paulinho glanced a header wide of the post.
Valverde shuffled his pack at half-time by bringing on Iniesta and Rakitic in an attempt to gain control of the match. Shortly after Messi forced another good save from Chichizola with a free-kick, the Argentine delivered a tempting corner-kick that was headed into the net by Busquets. Chances for either side ensued – Las Palmas looked for an equaliser with Oussama Tennane firing wide whilst Messi also had chances off-target.
Yet it was Messi who ensured that Barcelona maintained their 100 percent start in La Liga – scoring in the 70th and 77th minute; the second of his goals coming from an inch-perfect through ball by Denis Suarez. It was a chaotic day in the city of Barcelona but the events on the pitch at the Camp Nou were of a more routine nature.
Los Otros Puntos
- The familiar figure of Quique Sanchez Flores could not prevent Real Madrid from picking up their first La Liga home win of the season. But it could have been so different. His Espanyol side had plenty of chances themselves once they recovered from a lacklustre start. Isco scored Real’s opener – finishing off a Cristiano Ronaldo through ball – it came as a result of the home side’s domination in the first half. Yet after the break, Espanyol began to cause Real problems. Half-time substitute Marc Novarro had a shot saved by Navas and Moreno also missed an opportunity. But it was Leo Baptistao’s chance – only a last-ditch challenge from Nacho denying him – that was the most clear-cut; a game-changing moment that the Catalans could not make count. Moments later, Isco had all but secured the three points with a curling shot into the bottom corner of Pau Lopez’s goal. A much-needed home win for Los Blancos, which moves them up to fifth.
- The rain was bucketing down in San Sebastian – fans scurried to the Anoeta under umbrellas, stopping occasionally to shelter on what was a notoriously wet Basque Sunday morning. However, their bravery and commitment were rewarded with the most entertaining La Liga game of the season so far. In the 86th minute, Diego Llorente scored Real Sociedad’s fourth goal of the match to level against Real Betis. In the preceding eighty-five minutes a thrilling helter-skelter match had taken place – a case of you-score-we-score, or as Spanish newspaper Marca put it ‘blissful madness’.
- The supporters at Balaidos on Friday evening weren’t hard done by either– Juanpe split the points in a six-goal thriller between Celta Vigo and Girona.
- As the final whistle was blown at Butarque, the fans jumped with joy. A game that Leganes could – and should – have won given their chances; they were happy with just a point given that it was against their city rivals, Atletico Madrid.
- It happened. It finally happened. Was it the De Biasi factor? Maybe. Goals from Munir and Medran gave Alaves their first points – and win – of the season against Levante.
Celta Vigo 3–3 Girona
Deportivo 2–1 Getafe
Sevilla 2–0 Malaga
Levante 0–2 Alaves
Leganes 0–0 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 4–4 Real Betis
Barcelona 3–0 Las Palmas
Valencia 3–2 Athletic Bilbao
Villarreal 3–0 Eibar
Real Madrid 2–0 Espanyol
El Jugador de la Semana: Isco (Real Madrid)