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China’s Wu Lei strikes late as Espanyol hold 10-man Barcelona

Madrid (AFP) – Barcelona were pegged back by La Liga’s bottom club Espanyol on Saturday as Wu Lei struck late to secure a dramatic 2-2 draw in a thrilling Catalan derby. 

Luis Suarez appeared to have inspired another turnaround at the RCDE Stadium after he cancelled out David Lopez’s opener with a deft half-volley before digging out an exquisite pass for substitute Arturo Vidal to finish. 

But a red card for Frenkie de Jong with 16 minutes left gave Espanyol renewed hope and Chinese forward Wu emerged the hero, firing past stand-in goalkeeper Neto to rescue a point in Abelardo Fernandez’s first game in charge.

Barcelona remain top of the table but only on goal difference, their two-point advantage removed after Real Madrid earlier clinched an impressive 3-0 win away at Getafe. Atletico Madrid moved up to third after beating Levante 2-1. 

Espanyol have not beaten their local rivals in the league since 2009 and are still four points from safety, yet this performance should do wonders for morale. 

They will be hoping for another rescue mission from new coach Abelardo, who took over Alaves with six points from 13 games in 2018 and led them to 14th.

– Defensive problems –

Barca now switch their attention to the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia next week, where a Clasico final awaits if Real Madrid beat Valencia in the last four and they can overcome Atletico.

But coach Ernesto Valverde will have much to ponder after defensive problems again undermined his team against the league’s bluntest attack. 

Lopez was unmarked as he headed in Marc Roca’s cross in the 23rd minute while at the other end chances were few and far between, with Lionel Messi going closest with a header at the back post. 

Vidal came on at half-time for Ivan Rakitic and Suarez worked his magic, angling his foot perfectly to divert Jordi Alba’s cross inside the near post before picking out Vidal to make it 2-1 nine minutes later. 

De Jong received a second yellow card for pulling Jonathan Calleri’s shirt but Barcelona were in command until the 88th minute when Wu struck. 

Freed by an excellent reverse pass by Matias Vargas, the 28-year-old shot across Neto and into the far corner. 

Espanyol might even have won it in injury-time as Calleri raced clear, only to fire over with two team-mates free inside him. 

– Madrid catch Barca –

Real Madrid made a more impressive start to their year as they picked apart a robust Getafe side, even without the suspended Sergio Ramos and injured Eden Hazard. 

Raphael Varane was the instigator of two goals at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez, first pressuring Getafe’s David Soria into a missed punch and an own-goal, before himself heading home a cross from Toni Kroos. 

“I’m happy with his performance but it’s especially important when Sergio Ramos isn’t there, to have another leader,” said Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane. 

Luka Modric added a third deep into injury-time after a brilliant first-time pass by Gareth Bale had set Madrid away on the counter-attack. 

Getafe remain seventh and in the race for Champions League qualification but their usually stubborn defence was overly-generous as Soria’s mistake and then a free header put Madrid in charge. 

Hazard’s worryingly extended absence has offered a reprieve for Isco, who started again, and Bale, who twice should have scored in the second half, only to tee up Modric via substitute Fede Valverde. 

At the other end, Thibaut Courtois appears finally to be finding his best form after a rocky start since his summer move from Chelsea, making three strong saves before Varane’s second gave Madrid breathing space. 

“He saved us two or three times in the first half, he was key,” said Zidane. 

Atletico have struggled for goals this season but scored two in five minutes at the Wanda Metropolitano as Angel Correa converted Kieran Trippier’s cross in the 13th minute before Felipe Monteiro added a second in the 18th. 

In between, Levante also equalised through Roger Marti and they might have snatched a point at the end only for Jan Oblak to produce a brilliant save to deny Enis Bardhi. 

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