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Pique strikes late to keep Barcelona unbeaten


Madrid (AFP) – Gerard Pique scored a late header to salvage a 1-1 draw for runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona at city rivals Espanyol on Sunday, keeping their bid for an unbeaten campaign on track.

Ernesto Valverde’s men were in danger of falling to their first league defeat of the season when Gerard Moreno nodded the hosts ahead midway through the second half, but centre-back Pique met a Lionel Messi corner in the 82nd minute to snatch a point.

Barcelona are now 12 points clear at the top of the table from Atletico Madrid, who host third-placed Valencia later on Sunday.

The match was played in pouring rain and Valverde slammed the “dangerous” pitch.

“Even though it was raining, we thought that the pitch would hold, but then we saw that the grass was not going to hold up and that the pitch was becoming dangerous,” the Barcelona coach said.

“On our passes from defence the ball could get stuck in a puddle and that’s why things got difficult.

“We give a lot of value to this draw, because it was hard to get because of this scenario and because it’s a derby and we didn’t want to lose.”

The five-time European champions also set a new club record of 22 matches unbeaten to start a league season on Sunday, and are still in the hunt for a La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble.

“We are still up there (top of the table). The conditions for them and for us were not the best, but it was an entertaining game,” Barca captain Andres Iniesta told BeIn Sports.

They were far from at their fluent best against a stubborn Espanyol whose point drags them eight clear of the relegation zone, although Philippe Coutinho came close to scoring his first goal since joining from Liverpool last month when he struck the crossbar in the first half.

Faltering champions Real Madrid are 19 points adrift of arch rivals Barca in fourth, after throwing away two points in a 2-2 draw at Levante on Saturday.

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