Gerard Pique snatched a late 1-1 draw for Barcelona at Espanyol and Ernesto Valverde felt the hostile atmosphere at RCDE Stadium only served to motivate his defender.
Barca fell behind to Gerard Moreno’s header midway through the second half, but they preserved their unbeaten status in LaLiga this season as Lionel Messi, introduced off the bench, crossed for Pique to head home with eight minutes to play.
Pique was whistled throughout Sunday’s rain-soaked contest for comments he made following the recent Copa del Rey quarter-final second leg between these two fierce rivals.
The Spain international referred to Barca’s neighbours as Espanyol de Cornella – a suburb of the Barcelona metropolitan area – rather than Espanyol de Barcelona.
That did not go down well with Espanyol, who put in a complaint to the Spanish Football Federation, and Pique was the target of plenty of abuse from the stands as the battle lines were redrawn on Sunday.
After netting the equaliser, Pique motioned for the home fans to be quiet and Valverde felt the animosity brought the best out of his player, while also praising his side’s ability to cope with the saturated conditions.
— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) February 4, 2018
“It was a difficult match for him because of the previous tension,” Valverde said.
“I think that these scenarios motivate him and he gives the best of himself.
“We are happy with how we have responded to how the afternoon was going. As the game progressed, you could play less and we have become accustomed to the circumstances.
“The game was played by us in the first half but with the rain, when the ball started to stop, the field became dangerous.”
Valverde’s opposite number Quique Sanchez Flores, meanwhile, believes Pique’s celebration would not quieten the vociferous home support.
“A player can not silence supporters and less so ours. Gestures are gestures, and there they are. But the fans of Espanyol are far above, and will know how to be in the coming days.”
Perhaps with one eye on Thursday’s Copa semi-final second leg at Valencia, Valverde started Messi on the bench and introduced him shortly before the hour with the game goalless.
“Leo has a lot of games in a row and we have to be a little careful, we usually do it with all the players,” Valverde said.
“It was not conditioned by the field or the rain. He’s had a lot of games in a row. We had a lot of games in January and there are many things ahead of us.”
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