Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez both hit the woodwork as Barcelona were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw by a spirited Espanyol side in Saturday’s Catalan derby.
Espanyol set their stall out from the off at Cornella El Prat, with their intensity and aggression proving an effective method of nullifying their illustrious neighbours’ wealth of attacking talent.
Barca were far from their best, but for all Espanyol’s hard work, the hosts still had to rely on the help of the frame of the goal to claim an unlikely point.
Messi was first to go close when his sublime 25-yard free-kick shortly before half-time beat Espanyol goalkeeper Pau Lopez all ends up but struck the angle of post and crossbar.
Suarez had a goal disallowed for offside and then hit the post early in the second half when it appeared easier to score, as Luis Enrique’s team began 2016 with a point that means Atletico Madrid will go top of La Liga with a win over Levante later on Saturday.
Barca began the game in uncharacteristically sloppy fashion and struggled to get out of their own half early on thanks to Espanyol’s impressive attitude with and without the ball.
But it was the visitors who carved out the first real chance of the game in the ninth minute, when Jordi Alba miscued Suarez’s pin-point cross wide from close range.
Slowly but surely, Barca wrested control away from a lively but limited Espanyol side.
Suarez, Neymar and Messi combined in the 19th minute to create another clear-cut opportunity, only for the Brazilian’s cutback to fall marginally behind the Uruguayan, who would have had the goal at his mercy from six yards.
Barca defender Gerard Pique had to be alert to hack the ball off the line when Claudio Bravo failed to deal with an inswinging corner from the left, before Espanyol captain Javi Lopez was cautioned for a needlessly aggressive foul on Neymar as a bad-tempered affair threatened to boil over.
Messi’s influence was growing and, nine minutes before the break, Barca’s talisman rattled the angle of post and crossbar with a sensational free-kick that Pau Lopez could only stand and admire.
Barca started the second half quickly, and Suarez had the ball in the net four minutes after the restart only for the offside flag to deny him.
Espanyol once again had the woodwork to thank for keeping the scores level when Suarez somehow contrived to hit the post from five yards after dancing around Pau Lopez, before Messi shot straight at the goalkeeper from the edge of the area after superb work by Neymar.
Despite enjoying a near-monopoly of the ball and territory for the remainder of the game, Barca could not find a way past Pau Lopez as Espanyol, who travel to Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, clung on for a hard-fought point.