Barcelona’s Pique scores late to silence Espanyol crowd
MADRID (AP) — Jeered from his first touch of the ball, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique found a way to silence Espanyol fans in Sunday’s Catalan derby.
Pique scored a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw as the Spanish league leader narrowly avoided losing to its crosstown rival for the second time in less than three weeks.
The outspoken Pique celebrated by putting a finger in front of his mouth as if to tell the crowd to be quite.
“We have a responsibility as players, but we are also humans and we react to what happens,” Pique said. “Part of the crowd was insulting my family. There is a limit to everything.”
Pique had previously made comments criticizing Espanyol, and the crowd showed their disapproval by jeering him nearly every time he touched the ball.
His 82nd-minute goal helped Barcelona extend its unbeaten streak in the league to 22 matches, surpassing the record set under coach Pep Guardiola in 2009-10.
It also left Barcelona nine points in front of Atletico Madrid, which defeated third-placed Valencia 1-0 later Sunday.
Gerard Moreno put Espanyol ahead midway through the second half and Pique equalized with a header in a heated match at RCDE Stadium.
“These types of situations motivate Pique,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “His gesture comes as part of the rivalry that is natural in a derby.”
There were shoves and heated discussions throughout the match, which was played under steady rain and on a heavy pitch.
Messi, who provided the cross for Pique’s goal, came off the bench near the hour-mark after getting some rare rest time from Valverde.
Espanyol had ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak with a 1-0 victory in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals on Jan. 17, when Messi missed a penalty kick. Barcelona eventually eliminated Espanyol by winning the second leg 2-0.
After that match, Pique’s tone when talking about Espanyol infuriated rival fans and prompted an official complaint by the club. Pique did not back down on Sunday, questioning Espanyol’s links to Barcelona because it moved its base to nearby Cornella and has a foreign owner.
The Espanyol crowd was furious after Pique’s celebration on Sunday. Right after the goal, Moreno fouled the defender, prompting a heated altercation between players from both teams. Moreno had to be contained as he tried to go after Pique.
There were also discussions in the tunnel to the changing rooms.
“One player won’t silence our crowd,” Espanyol coach Quique Sanchez Flores said. “His gesture was what it was. Our fans are above that.”
Pique’s only other goal this season was also against Espanyol.
Atletico Madrid moved nine points clear of third-placed Valencia with Angel Correa’s second-half winner at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
Correa scored with a superb shot into the top corner from outside the area, giving Atletico its second consecutive victory.
“We played against one of the best teams in La Liga and we were superior,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.
Uruguay defender Diego Godin had to be substituted early in the second half after a hard collision with Valencia goalkeeper Neto, injuring his mouth and apparently losing some teeth.
Defender Stefan Savic was replaced in the first half, also because of an injury.
ATHLETIC’S RUN ENDS
Athletic Bilbao’s nine-game unbeaten streak ended with a 2-0 loss at Girona.
Cristhian Stuani scored a goal in each half for the hosts, which moved to ninth in the standings.
Athletic was debuting defender Inigo Martinez, who was acquired from Basque Country rival Real Sociedad as the club’s most expensive signing at nearly 30 million euros ($37 million).
Athletic defender Yeray Alvarez returned to action more than eight months after being sidelined for testicular cancer treatment.
DRAW IN DERBY
Leganes and Getafe could not manage more than a 0-0 draw in the derby between rivals based just south of Madrid.
Host Getafe had the best chances, twice hitting the woodwork in a match played under light snow during parts of the second half.
It was the fifth straight game without a loss for Leganes, which rested several regular starters ahead of its game at Sevilla in the Copa del Rey semifinals on Wednesday. The teams drew 1-1 in the first leg in Leganes last week.
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