Barcelona 2-0 Espanyol: 5 Talking Points
Lionel Messi turned matchwinner once more as a second-half brace saw Barcelona seal a 2-0 home win over local rivals Espanyol, edging them closer towards the La Liga title with nine league matches remaining.
The excellent Argentine has now taken his tally to 31 goals in Spain's top-flight this term, after two goals after the break saw Barca maintain their 10-point gap over second-placed Atletico Madrid in La Liga.
His first was a deft free-kick, moments after former Barcelona midfielder Victor Sanchez was booked for a cynical challenge on Lionel as he shaped to shoot just outside the area. He completed his brace just minutes before full-time, as Ivan Rakitic and substitute Malcom combined before the latter's threaded pass into his path was perfectly weighted to beat Diego Lopez from close-range.
Espanyol defended well for sustained periods, even without much possession nor chances on-goal. There were plenty of fouls committed which broke up the game's tempo despite Barca's dominance in the final third. This latest result sees the visitors just six points above the relegation places in 14th place. With all of that in mind, here's a look at five talking points from Barcelona's latest victory:
#5 Coutinho shines in encouraging flashes again
It was far from a vintage attacking display by the Brazilian, but Philippe Coutinho's individual showing here was encouraging to watch.
He recorded two key passes - a joint game-high - while an 89.3% pass accuracy rate, two dribbles and one tackle completed show he was busier than you might expect starting on the left-hand side of their attacking trident. His decision-making was improved and a number of incisive passes went unrewarded.
To be critical though, he should have done better with his effort in amongst a goalmouth scramble, where he blazed high and wide. However, his attacking movement was troublesome and probing - though Ivan Rakitic's shoot on sight policy meant promising attacks were wasted at times when Coutinho offered a better outlet in space.
On another day, he would have had a goal and assist to his name, but it's an encouraging display from someone tirelessly linked with the exit door at Barca and is starting to play with the creative authority which convinced them to spend £105m (£146m after add-ons) for his services last January.