Espanyol's 'NFL tactics' irk Enrique

Neymar leaping and hugging Lionel Messi after the Argentinian forward scored his second goal in Barcelona's 4-1 win over Espanyol on Wednesday. Messi was key to opening up the visitors.
Neymar leaping and hugging Lionel Messi after the Argentinian forward scored his second goal in Barcelona's 4-1 win over Espanyol on Wednesday. Messi was key to opening up the visitors.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BARCELONA • Barcelona manager Luis Enrique compared Espanyol's roughhouse tactics to the National Football League after the visitors had two men sent-off in the second bad-tempered Catalan derby in four days as Barca came from behind to win 4-1 in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

Hernan Perez and Papakouli Diop were shown red cards in a four-minute spell in the second half with Barca already leading 3-1 thanks to a Lionel Messi double.

Messi then teed up Neymar for a stunning fourth to all but seal Barca's place in the quarter-finals ahead of the second leg on Jan 13.

Espanyol's intense approach had worked in frustrating Barca with a 0-0 draw on Saturday. Yet, they lost their discipline in the final quarter with goalkeeper Pau Lopez escaping punishment for a blatant stamp on Messi.

And there were reports that the players from the two sides even came to blows in the tunnel after the game.

Catalan newspaper Sport reported that Barcelona forward Luis Suarez waited in the Nou Camp tunnel to taunt Espanyol players, telling them they were "a waste of space".

During the game, Senegalese midfielder Diop told the Uruguayan "I s*** on your w**** mother". That led to his sending-off, according to the referee's report.

"The referees are the ones to set the limits. They are responsible for ensuring this is football and not American football," said Enrique.

"Anything that takes us away from football worries me. All we are looking for is to play.

"When someone goes beyond the limit with their actions, there is a referee there (to act).

"We are teams used to playing in our own way and we have to understand that in a positive light."

Felipe Caicedo had put Espanyol into a shock lead before Messi replied four minutes later. A wonderful Messi free kick just before half-time put Barca in front before the Argentinian provided two fine assists for Gerard Pique and Neymar to put the tie beyond Espanyol's reach.

Pique admitted that Messi had been the key to opening up the visitors. "Their (Espanyol's) plan is to play very tough and they made sure we didn't have fluidity in our play," said the Spain international. "Leo helped us a lot with the first two goals to open the game up and then we took advantage to create more chances and score the third."

Espanyol captain Javi Lopez said: "I like to define us more as an intense team. They lacked respect for us calling us violent."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2016, with the headline 'Espanyol's 'NFL tactics' irk Enrique'. Print Edition | Subscribe