Guardiola's men ease to victory over their city rivals as they move eight points clear of Real Madrid, and to within one of the title
Barcelona re-established their eight point lead at the summit of La Liga leaving the Catalan giants just one point away from retaining the league title with three games left to play following Sunday evening's 2-0 win over fierce neighbours Espanyol.
Andres Iniesta opened the scoring in the 29th minute when he capitalised on Ernesto Galan’s mistake.
The full-back’s heavy touch allowed the Barca playmaker to steal the ball and charge towards goal where his trickery created space to shoot inside the area. The Spanish World Cup hero steadied himself before powering a low drive beyond Carlos Kameni to assert Barcelona’s dominance on the tie.
Espanyol held their own until the break but the found themselves two down soon after the interval when Gerard Pique met Xavi’s corner with aplomb to double Barca’s lead.
Barcelona failed to begin in their usual fashion as Espanyol effectively denied the Blaugrana time and space on the ball in the opening exchanges. And the visitors even looked threatening on the counter-attack when Ivan Alonso and Osvaldo combined well before the latter was disposed by a recovery challenge from Javier Mascherano.
Barca did test the glove work of Kameni. The Cameroonian shot-stopper was required to get down low to beat away Pedro’s shot before Iniesta rehearsed his goal. The Spanish international turned his marker around with quick feet before he tried to curl an effort into the far post, only for Kameni to tip the shot away with a fine stop.
Espanyol responded when they showed pace on the counter attack, giving Jose Callejon a chance to find Ivan Alonso waiting in earnest to turn it home but the cross was too strong, allowing Gerard Pique to hack it clear.
Lionel Messi became more determined and when he brought a seemingly impossible ball down out of the air it seemed as if the goal was sure to come. The Argentine burst into the penalty area but could only crash a cross-cum-shot across the face of the goal.
Barcelona’s pressure eventually paid off when Ernesto Galan gifted the ball back to the opposition. Iniesta proceeded in flirting with the defender before he turned Raul Rodriguez and hammered a low drive beyond Kameni to put the home side 1-0 up.
That lead should have been doubled when David Villa burst onto Iniesta’s through ball but the Spanish striker failed to hit the target after Barca played the beautiful game at its most beautiful.
Kameni was called upon before the half-time whistle when Messi’s surge forward drew out three Espanyol defenders. The Argentine, in the hunt for the Pichichi trophy, unselfishly tapped the ball to Villa but the striker was fractionally beaten to it after a brave lunge from the opposition goalkeeper.
Team United | Barcelona line-up ahead of their clash against Espanyol
Barcelona’s second goal came from the most unlikely of sources soon after the break when Gerard Pique battled hard to get to Xavi’s corner ahead of his marker to thump a downward header past Kameni to double the Blaugrana’s lead.
Osvaldo attempted to revive Espanyol’s pursuit of European glory as he left Pique on his backside. The Italian stung the palms of Victor Valdes after passing the Spanish defender, and soon after spun the same man in the area but his bending effort was clung to in the air by Barca’s ‘keeper.
The game became tepid until Messi’s burst of energy won a free-kick for his side on the edge of Espanyol’s ‘D’, with the Argentine looking determined to take advantage of the set-piece.
Messi was forced to focus for two minutes as Pedro and Raul Rodriquez shared words in the wall, but it was the same wall that denied Leo the chance of scoring his 32nd goal of the season.
Barcelona continued to search for their third of the game and when Messi’s reverse pass allowed Iniesta to roll the ball across the six yard box to Villa and Pedro, it should have been buried but Rodriguez made a superb intervention to touch it over the bar.
Neither side showed much urgency in the latter stages of the game as the clock neared the 90 minutes. Eric Abidal was introduced to a rapturous applause from the Camp Nou faithful as he continued his recovery from surgery.
The win takes Barcelona to within a point of clinching their third successive La Liga title with three games left to play, the first of which is against Levante on Wednesday.
Espanyol, meanwhile, will continue their pursuit of European glory as they hope to close in on sixth placed Atletic Bilbao, and that last Europa league spot.