Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the La Liga clash between Barcelona
at Camp Nou. Barca are going in search of a sixth straight league win that would take them 13 points clear at the top of the table, while their Catalan rivals - who have won just one of their last five matches - can climb into the top half if they pull off a shock victory on enemy territory.
BARCELONA TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Coutinho
SUBS: Vidal, Pena, Malcom, Roberto, Boateng, Alena, Umtiti
ESPANYOL TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Diego Lopez; Rosales, Lluis Lopez, Naldo, Hermoso, Pedrosa; Melendo, Sanchez, Roca, Granero; Iglesias
SUBS: Perez, Javi Lopez, Vila, Garcia, Wu Lei, Jimenez, Semedo
Barcelona show just two changes from their 4-1 win against Real Betis before the international break - slightly surprising, as many expected Ernesto Valverde
to rotate his side today. Espanyol, who go with a back five, get the game up and running.
Barca take just a couple of minutes to carve through their opponents' backline. Messi charges towards the box and slips the ball through for Suarez, whose cross deflects into the air for Diego Lopez to gather. Messi apologises to Rakitic, who was better positioned the other side of him.
Espanyol are having to do plenty of defending in these early stages, as was always likely to be the case. Barca are probing away and have got the ball into the box on a few occasions, but the visitors are standing firm so far.
Pique takes a bit of a risk by sticking his arm out to stop Pedrosa getting to the ball, catching his opponent in the process. The Espanyol player goes to ground inside the penalty box, but the referee does not feel that enough contact was made for the pen to be awarded.
CHANCE! The visiting side have settled quite well. Barca are dominating possession but Espanyol are trying to get the ball forward as often as they can. Messi gets on the end of a pass in behind and, after dragging a few opposition players out of place, he fired away a shot that hits Naldo and ends over the bar.
That was a fine pass from Alba in behind for Messi's opening chance of the match. The Argentinian forward was offside, though, so it would have been a contentious one had he scored. VAR is of course in use this afternoon.
Barcelona are very patient with their build-up play, knowing that the chances will arrive. They have already created one good opening for Messi, which the Argentinian forward could not convert. A free kick won on the left is cleared when it arrives in the box.
Suarez and Coutinho exchange passes in the box but the latter cannot quite bring it under control. Espanyol are not exactly holding on at the moment, but this pressure will surely begin to tell.
Barca are struggling to break through Espanyol's five-man backline. A reminder that the home side can move 13 points clear if they overcome their neighbours today, and to within a few wins of retaining their title.
Valverde's side up the tempo and come close to an opener through Semedo's fizzing cross from the right. It is aimed towards Suarez but he cannot quite turn it goalwards. Moments later, Roca nearly gets a shot away inside the box but is put under enough pressure to stop him doing so.
CLOSE! Suarez does well to bring down Messi's pass and hold the ball up. With two defenders to beat, the striker lays it across to Rakitic, who decides to have a go from 25 yards. The bullet strike flies inches wide of the target.
A cross into the box is not belt by Espanyol and Lenglet gets an acrobatic shot away, which is blocked. Barca are continuing to build momentum and it is surely just a matter of time before they find a way through.
SHOT! Alba is played in on the overlap down the left and cuts the ball back for Suarez, who controls the ball and gets a shot away, but he is unable to find the target.
Espanyol have had less than a third of the ball in the opening third of the match. That is to be expected when you travel to Camp Nou - the question is just how long can they hold out? The tempo of Barca's play has dropped over the last five minutes.
The visitors have not created any chances of note so far but they have performed well overall, getting the ball forward whenever they can. Rubi
will be delighted if his side can see out the rest of this first half without conceding.
Semedo's run is illegally halted and Barca have a free kick in a good crossing position. Barcelona have not yet registered a single shot on target - that has to change if they are to keep their winning run alive.
SAVE! Messi curls in the free kick and it is flicked on, possibly by Pique, and helped over the crossbar by Diego Lopez. That was a decent stop from the Espanyol keeper - the first he has had to make all afternoon. Barca are closing in on a goal.
Suarez and Coutinho are not on the same wavelength as a pass inside the box goes astray. Espanyol are continuing to do just about enough to remain on level terms here. Barca are now up to 73% in terms of first-half possession.
Granero lunges in on Messi 25 yards from goal to concede a free kick. The Espanyol midfielder argues that he got the ball first and I think he has a point - that was a harsh call. Messi takes on the set piece, sending it straight into the wall.
Lenglet recovers well to prevent Espanyol from creating a goalscoring chance. Rubi
can be very pleased with the way his side have got at Barcelona in this first half. It is so far, so good as far as the visitors are concerned.
The first half is petering out, with Barcelona unable to really keep hold of the ball. The league leaders have been below par in this opening period and do not really deserve a lead to take into half time, which is now just five minutes away.
CHANCE! Busquets controls the ball on the edge of the box and tries to squeeze it through for Alba down the left. The ball deflects into the path of Messi off an Espanyol player, meaning that he is onside, but the Argentinian maestro is unable to find the target with his shot. That is not like him at all!
Sanchez is barged off the ball by Rakitic, earning his side a free kick that will help to eat up some further seconds. The free kick is sprayed out to the right-hand side, but Barca soon turn over possession and they instantly go into attack mode.
Alba is being regularly picked out down the left. The full-back pings the ball towards Coutinho, but the Brazilian cannot get a shot away under pressure from Roca. VAR is then checked to see if any contact was made on Messi, but no penalty has been awarded.
HALF TIME: BARCELONA 0-0 ESPANYOL
The sides go into half time all square at 0-0. Barcelona failed to register a single shot on target in the first half, though Diego Lopez did have a save to make as a Messi free kick was helped goalwards by an Espanyol player. The visitors are looking good value for an unlikely point.
uncharacteristically wasted a couple of half-decent opportunities in the goalless first half, firing the ball into Naldo in front of goal early on and then guiding a shot wide from a good position after a deflected pass landed nicely in his path. The Argentinian forward nearly made a telling impact on the first half, though, as his free kick was glanced goalwards by an Espanyol player, forcing Diego Lopez into the only notable save of the opening period.
Ivan Rakitic also sent a bullet shot inches wide of the target from 25 yards and Luis Suarez fired the ball into the side-netting, but Espanyol otherwise did enough to keep their opponents at arm's length. Despite having just 28% of the ball before half time, the visitors attempted to get forward as often as they could, without creating a chance of any sort.
BARCELONA SUBS: Vidal, Pena, Malcom, Roberto, Boateng, Alena, Umtiti
ESPANYOL SUBS: Perez, Javi Lopez, Vila, Garcia, Wu Lei, Jimenez, Semedo
KICKOFF: Barcelona, who did not really perform like champions in waiting during the first half, get the game back underway. Neither manager has made a change at the interval so it is as you were.
Coutinho plays the ball short to Suarez, who fizzes it out to Alba. There is far too much height on the pass and the full-back is unable to keep it in play. The early signs in this second half are not all that promising from Barca's perspective.
SHOT! Semedo injects some pace into Barca's game, powering past Pedrosa and delivering the ball towards the back post. Alba gets on the end of it, firing the half-volley wide of the target. There is no end product for Barca this afternoon.
Valverde could do with making a change. Coutinho is offering very little, overhitting a simple pass towards Alba down the left. From the next attack Arthur's pass towards the back post, again aimed in the direction of Alba, skips out of play.
Barca's subdued display today is surely down to the international break - it is never easy hitting the ground running after a couple of weeks away. Valverde must use his subs wisely because his team do not look like scoring at the moment.
SAVE! Espanyol have not got forward all that much since half time, but this is the best attack of the half from either side. Iglesias gets forward down the right and picks up Melendo, whose shot on the turn is kept out by Ter Stegen down the middle.
Messi's shot is blocked on the line, but the offside flag had already gone up. Barca have still yet to get a shot on target and we have played just under an hour. This has been as bad as they have performed in a long time.
PENALTY APPEAL! Pedrosa goes shoulder to shoulder with Semedo, sending his opponent flying to the ground inside the penalty box. The referee waves away the Barca appeals for a penalty, claiming that there was not enough contact. I think that was the right call.
BARCELONA SUBS! Valverde could have done with making these changes a little earlier. Malcom comes on for Arthur, meaning that Coutinho will drop into central midfield, while Roberto takes over from Semedo in a like-for-like change at full-back.
Malcom is making some good runs off the ball, which Messi has been unable to spot so far. The home side have offered next to nothing in this second half - 0-0 does not flatter Espanyol. There are now just 25 minutes to go at Camp Nou.
ESPANYOL SUB! Garcia replaces Melendo in the visiting side's first change of the match. Rubi's side are looking good value to claim a point off their neighbours - they have a little over 20 minutes to see through.
SHOT! Rakitic whistles another shot wide from just outside the box. Messi passed the ball to Coutinho, who in turn laid it off for Rakitic, but the midfielder did not really connect with the ball in the way he would have hoped.
SHOT! Barca are perhaps starting to turn the screw a little. Alba's left-sided cross deflects into the path of Coutinho, who sidefoots the ball over the crossbar. There are jeers around Camp Nou - I wonder if they are aimed at the Brazilian?
YELLOW CARD! Sanchez lunges in on Messi just when the forward was about to pull the trigger. The ex-Barcelona man is shown a yellow card and further punishment could follow as Messi is stood over the free kick, around 19 yards from goal.
GOAL! BARCELONA 1-0 ESPANYOL (LIONEL MESSI)
This is another out-of-this-world free kick from Messi! Barcelona required something special and their star man has pulled one out of the top drawer once again. From the free kick conceded by Sanchez, Messi delicately lifts the ball over the wall and Sanchez is unable to head it off the line, getting in his goalkeeper's way in the process.
YELLOW CARD! Was the Barcelona goal deserved? No. But when you have a player of Messi's quality in your ranks, you do not have to be on top of your game to pick up all three points. Espanyol now have 15 minutes to find a response. Granero is booked for a foul.
SHOT! Malcom, who has done well since coming on, decides against using the overlap of Coutinho and instead pulls it back for late-arriving Messi, who gets under the shot and sends it over the crossbar. Barcelona have finally hit full flow.
Garcia and fellow sub Wu Lei combine in front of goal, but the offside flag comes to Barcelona's rescue. That was a positive move from the visitors, offering hope that they can still snatch a point from this match. Barca are not over the line just yet.
ESPANYOL SUB! The match has become stretched, with Espanyol now throwing more bodies forward. Sanchez is replaced by Alfa Semedo in the visiting side's final change of the afternoon. There are around 13 minutes to go, including added time.
BARCELONA SUB! Lenglet defends the danger as another Espanyol attack comes to a disappointing end. Valverde turns to his bench for the third time today by bringing on Vidal for Coutinho in central midfield. Barca are having to do a lot more defending now.
Espanyol are seeing a lot more of the ball now. Rubi's men are not afraid to take a few gambles, knowing that they only have five minutes to find a goal. You would not bet against the visitors snatching a late leveller.
YELLOW CARD! Pedrosa is cautioned for his challenge on Rakitic. Before that, Ter Stegen's clearance hit Wei and trickled wide of his target. That could have been a disaster for the Barcelona goalkeeper!
GOAL! BARCELONA 2-0 ESPANYOL (LIONEL MESSI)
Messi settles what has been a tight game with his second goal of the afternoon. This is a fine move from Barca, starting with Ter Stegen in goal, through to Rakitic in midfield and then in behind for Malcom. The forward tees up Messi, whose first-time finish has too much on it for Lopez to get a hand to.
Barcelona are now looking far more comfortable thanks to Messi's second of the afternoon. Espanyol could easily have snatched a point, but they failed to take one or two of their half-chances and it is now game over.
FULL TIME: BARCELONA 2-0 ESPANYOL
Barcelona may have been far from their best today, but they got the job done thanks to their star man. Messi converted a world-class free kick to open the scoring 19 minutes from time, before doubling his side's tally late on at the end of a swift counter. Espanyol can be happy with their performance, though in the end they could not stop Messi - not many sides, if any, can!
That concludes Sports Mole
's live text coverage of events from Camp Nou. An on-the-whistle report can be found by clicking here
, and be sure to join us again tomorrow evening as we bring you updates from Real Madrid's home match against Huesca. See you then!