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De Jong costs Barcelona two precious points - but disgusted Dutchman will learn from foolish red card

01:35 GMT+3 05/01/2020
Frenkie de Jong Barcelona Espanyol
The Dutchman was dismissed for a silly second yellow card while the Catalans were leading in Saturday night's dramatic derby draw with Espanyol

There may be no keener student of football in the game today than Frenkie de Jong.

The Dutchman is obsessed with watching matches, learning tactics and improving himself.

Over the next few days he will be replaying Barcelona’s 2-2 draw at local rivals Espanyol again and again, focusing on one moment in particular.

With just 15 minutes to go and the visitors a goal up, De Jong decided, foolishly, to drag down Jonathan Calleri, and was correctly issued a second yellow card, resulting in the first red of his career.

He looked disgusted with himself and Gerard Pique immediately rushed to offer the 22-year-old a reassuring hug.

However, De Jong’s disappointment would only have intensified when Wu Lei finished superbly to level the game in the 88th minute, thus preventing Barca from restoring their two-point lead over Liga title rivals Real Madrid, who defeated Getafe earlier in the day.

The draw will, therfore, hit De Jong hard, even though almost everything he has done in a Barcelona shirt to date has ranged from good to excellent.

However, he erred badly in getting caught in possession by Calleri and only compounded his initial mistake by blatantly pulling the Espanyol forward back by the shirt, particularly as Pique and Clement Lenglet were covering.

Perhaps the central defensive duo's shaky performances left De Jong feeling like he had no choice, but when he looks back at the incident, as he undoubtedly will, he will acknowledge his sloppiness, and the gross error of judgment that followed.

As shocking as it was to see such rashness from such an intelligent player, it would be more surprising still if he ever does it again.

Still, it was an unfortunate misjudgement for Barca, who had recovered from a horribly sluggish start to take control of the derby thanks to Luis Suarez.

Indeed, De Jong was by no means the only player clad in yellow to look off-colour against Espanyol, particularly during the first half.

Aimless and sloppy, listless and subdued, Barcelona struggled dismally against their bottom-of-the-table opponents.

Former Barcelona player Abelardo was able to celebrate a goal on his Espanyol coaching debut when David Lopez headed home to break the deadlock after 23 minutes.

Barcelona offered precisely nothing until the final five minutes of the first half, coincidentally when Arturo Vidal started to warm up.

The Chilean midfielder is a wrecking ball, someone who brings chaos into any game, and the conclusion to the first half was similarly wild.

Barcelona started to create chances, with Lionel Messi seeing a header and a free-kick saved, while Suarez’s clever effort struck the post.

The Catalans eventually levelled early in the second half, when Jordi Alba provided his first assist of the season with a nice cross to the near post, where Suarez finished coolly.

It has become one of the Uruguayan’s special tricks: covering up an underwhelming display by being the man in the right place at the right time to strike.

Whatever Suarez lacks in his all-round game now – and his fiercer critics will tell you that is a lot – he still has a killer instinct.

He also remains capable of conjuring something out of nothing, as he underlined with a special piece of improvisation for the second goal by flicking the ball with the outside of his foot over the Espanyol defence and on to Vidal’s forehead.

The Chilean’s finish was emphatic – his own piece of vindication while he scraps with the club over an alleged unpaid bonus and a potential January exit.

Suarez, who has been involved in each of Barcelona’s last nine La Liga goals – scoring four and setting up five – deserved to be the match-winner but it must be said that while De Jong’s moment of madness was decisive, the No.9 could have made the game safe before Espanyol’s equaliser.

The forward blasted one chance – superbly set up by the otherwise subdued Messi – at Diego Lopez, while he could not beat the goalkeeper with a later lob.

As it was, Barca squandered two precious points in their incredibly tight title fight with bitter rivals Reals, with both sides now locked together again, on 40 points, but the Catalans in first place on account of their superior goal difference.

De Jong, of course, has played a key role in Barca’s campaign. They would hardly be top of the table without the former Ajax ace, who has dug the Catalans out of many a hole with his clever midfield play.

So, his team-mates are hardly likely to turn on him for his reckless red. They won’t need to anyway. As usual, De Jong’s harshest critic will be himself.