Lionel Messi proved once again to be a miracle-maker as the Argentine came off the bench in the torrential rain to help prolong Barcelona’s unbeaten Liga record.
The Blaugrana went into the Catalan derby with the chance to extend their unbeaten start to the Liga campaign to 22 games. The last team to record a longer unbeaten start were Fabio Capello’s Real Madrid – 24 matches – back in 1996-97.
This incredible run looked set to come to an end at Cornella El-Prat as Gerard Moreno’s header took Espanyol to the brink of a famous victory.
However, second half substitute Messi came to the rescue by whipping in a sublime free kick for Gerard Pique to nod in an equaliser with just seven minutes remaining.
Ernesto Valverde had rotated his team following their Copa del Rey exertions on Thursday, giving Messi a breather on the bench along with Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and Ivan Rakitic.
But Barca – fielding a 4-3-3 formation with Philippe Coutinho and Paco Alcacer flanking Luis Suarez in attack - struggled to cope with the miserable weather conditions.
The rain poured down all game long, leaving the pitch soggy and making short, one-touch passing extremely difficult to execute. The Blaugrana have often toiled in the past on slow playing surfaces and it was no different on Sunday.
Even the likes of Andres Iniesta were losing the ball as it got caught up in the turf, and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen came to the rescue after the veteran midfielder had his pocket picked by Leo Baptistao.
Indeed, Barca were fortunate to go in level at the break when Baptistao headed over a glorious chance from six yards out from an enticing Marc Navarro cross. The Brazilian squandered another great chance when through on goal seconds after the restart.
Coutinho was perhaps Barcelona’s liveliest player in the opening 45 minutes and came so close to scoring his first goal for the club midway through the half - cutting in from the left and whipping a trademark curling shot off the crossbar from outside the area.
Barca improved after the break, dominating possession and territory. But the pitch became increasingly waterlogged, to the extent that dribbling seemed virtually impossible.
Impossible for everyone but Messi, that is, as seconds after the Argentine’s introduction on 59 minutes he charged past three players through a virtual pond of water before being upended and sliding into the advertising hoarding.
But with Barca on top, Espanyol broke the deadlock against the run of play as Gerard Moreno powered home a bullet header from a brilliant cross from veteran substitute Sergio Garcia on 66 minutes.
An equaliser looked unlikely. Indeed Barcelona hadn’t registered their first shot on target until the 62nd minute.
But Messi proved that he can walk on water while everyone else on the pitch was slipping over, delivering a perfect assist for Pique to earn Barca a share of the spoils and retain their whopping 19 point lead over eternal rivals Real Madrid.
They are well on track to retain the Copa del Rey, as they lead Valencia 1-0 ahead of the second leg of their semi-final next Thursday. And they will go into their Champions League last 16 tie against Chelsea as big favourites, too, with the London club currently embroiled in a crisis.
Sunday’s derby was yet another test passed for Barcelona in possibly the worst conditions imaginable – but with Messi to call upon what test isn’t passable for the champions-elect?