Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has played down reports of a fracas in the tunnel following his team’s 4-1 Copa del Rey win over rivals Espanyol on Wednesday.
As reported by Sport, referee Juan Martinez Munuera noted in his match report there was an incident after the game at the Camp Nou that saw Barcelona striker Luis Suarez say “you’re a waste of space” to some of the Espanyol players; the visitors finished the match with nine men after Hernan Perez and Pape Diop were given their marching orders.
When asked about the alleged incident, Enrique did his best to play down its significance, per Sport: “That was just Christmas carols."
This was the second of a triple-header of matches between the two Catalan rivals. They played each other in a fiery affair in La Liga at the weekend, which finished in a 0-0 stalemate. After the first leg of the Copa del Rey clash, they will go to the Estadi Cornella-El Prat for the second half of the tie next week.
Given these games are usually charged affairs, having three so close together means emotions were always going to spill over at some stage. Espanyol, typically the aggressors in this fixture, did seek to go in hard and rile some Barca players.
Enrique claimed after the game it is up to the referee to determine at what point those out on the pitch do cross the line, per Sport: “The limits are set by the officials. They are the ones in charge of making sure this is football and not American football. Tonight there was intensity and tension, but it’s the up to the match officials to decide on the limits.”
Spanish football expert Sergi Dominguez feels as though the Espanyol players definitely crossed a line with some of their conduct at the Camp Nou on Wednesday:
The Pericos will always seek to bring a bit of needle to this affair, though. If they were to arrive up at the Camp Nou and go toe-to-toe with Barcelona in a football sense, then they’d be played off the park. Given this fixture is a bitter derby match, too, there are always going to be moments when emotion gets the better of both sets of players.
That was certainly the case for Perez and Diop. As we can see here, courtesy of Matchbook.com, Lionel Messi was also on the end of what appeared to be a pretty rough challenge:
Although the tie is virtually over after Barcelona’s 4-1 win, it’s unlikely there’ll be a placid atmosphere at Espanyol when the two renew their rivalry once again. After all, following the game, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique stirred the pot even more, per Marca: “They call themselves the 'marvellous minority,' and they're in such a minority that they can't even fill their ground.”
For Espanyol, it doesn’t get any bigger than facing the Blaugrana on home soil, and they’ll seek to turn in a performance of endeavour that can at least see them secure a victory.
Enrique will need to drill home to his players that even though they’re in complete control of this two-legged affair, they should expect a hostile welcome at Cornella next week.