|First Division - Day 37|
Barcelona 2 - Espanyol 0
Puyol (Reiziger 85'), Abelardo, Frank De Boer, Motta; Luis Enrique (Geovanni
80'), Xavi, Cocu; Kluivert (Fernando 73'); Saviola, Overmars. 4-3-1-2.
Team changes: Barcelona: Abelardo, Overmars for Christanval, Rochemback / Espanyol: Lopo for Rotchen.
Barcelona virtually ensured themselves a Champions League place for next year after beating city neighbours Espanyol 2-0. Defeats for Celta and Betis mean that Barça will only need a point in their last match at Zaragoza to clinch fourth place, leaving their two rivals to play the UEFA cup. On any other weekend the Catalan derby would have taken pride of place, but even on the local television network it was displaced by the fight for the league title. Rexach's side came in to the game licking their wounds after losing to Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final, and with Rivaldo still out with a troubling knee injury, Overmars came back in to the side. Lopo returned for the visitors after a one match ban.
Espanyol have one of the worst away records in the league, and they showed why, allowing Barcelona to control the game right from the kick off. Only Argensó and the woodwork saved the visitors from a disaster in the first half, with Kluivert heading against the bar and Saviola hitting a post after De Boer's shot was saved. Saviola shot just wide again before Kluivert finally beat the keeper on the stroke of half time, the excellent Overmars playing the ball across for his Dutch team mate to shoot into the bottom far corner of the net.
The pressure continued in to the second half, with Argensó making a double stop from Saviola and Xavi. Flores made his usual substitution, Palencia for Pacheco, who had been the only player to wake up Bonano in the first hour of the game. But then Xavi made sure of the win with a well struck free kick which Argensó could not get to. After that the nerves started to get frayed, and after Alex Fernández got his marching orders for a second bookable offence, referee Ansuategui Roca had to step in to calm things down. Xavi brushed the bar with another free kick, and in the dying minutes Espanyol were reduced to nine men when Lopo was given a direct red card for a tackle from behind on Motta.
Espanyol's remote chance of reaching the UEFA spots walked off with him, and they now need a win next week against Málaga to stay in twelfth spot and ensure a place in the Intertoto cup. Any lower and they will not be eligible for the competition, and if they end below Málaga they will have to start that competition in mid-July rather than at the end of the month. That would be a problem as their B team players will not be available as they have reached the second division B play-offs, and the first team squad's holidays would be cut short. Flores also has a personal interest in winning, as his contract will only be renewed (theoretically at least) if the team finishes tenth or higher. He will make sure they do their best.