Barcelona continue perfect start at empty Camp Nou
La Liga refuse to postpone match despite safety concerns as over 460 injured in city
The Barcelona team pose for a team photo wearing shirts in the colours of the Catalan flag, the club earlier condemned the actions of Spanish police in the city on Sunday. Photograph: Getty Images
Barcelona 3 Las Palmas 0
Barcelona continued their 100 per cent start to life in La Liga in bizarre circumstances, beating Las Palmas 3-0 at an empty Camp Nou. The Catalan club had asked for the match to be postponed due to protests in the city over Catalonia’s independence referendum, in which more than 460 people have been injured.
That request was rejected and Barcelona, threatened with a six-point deduction according to club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, took the decision to play the match behind closed doors just 20 minutes before kick-off, leaving thousands of supporters stranded outside. A statement from La Liga said the match should take place as normal because the security and safety of fans had been “guaranteed” by the Catalan police.
“We have not been able to find a way to postpone it. From there, all together, directors, executives and players met and we decided, exceptionally, to play the game behind closed doors,” Bartomeu said. “Els Mossos [the Catalan police force] told us the game could be played normally. Playing this way, with the stadium empty, the club shows its disagreement [with the decision not to postpone the game]. The league told us we would lose six points, three from today and three as a penalty.”
Las Palmas had the national flag embroidered on to their match-day shirts to show their support for a united Spain while Barcelona emerged for the warmup wearing a yellow-and-red-striped shirt - the colours of the Estelada flag associated with Catalan independence. Earlier on Sunday, defender Gerard Pique tweeted a photo of him voting in the referendum. “Together we are unstoppable defending democracy,” he said.
The result of the match itself ensured Barcelona extended their perfect start to the season, earning a seventh league win in as many games. Ernesto Valverde’s side have now scored 23 goals this term, conceding just twice. And by keeping Las Palmas at bay on Sunday afternoon Barcelona recorded their 1,000th La Liga clean sheet.
Amid an eerie and strange atmosphere, Barcelona started slowly and Las Palmas dominated much of the first half. Jonathan Calleri, the former West Ham United striker, rattled the post three minutes before the interval after good work by Oussama Tannane, who unselfishly laid the ball off.
But at half-time Valverde, the Barcelona manager, sought personnel changes, introducing Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic in place of Aleix Vidal and Paulinho. The latter impressed in the first half but headed wide after arriving late in to the box to meet Sergi Roberto’s deep cross. Barcelona began the second period with much more intent and were rewarded for their efforts after 49 minutes, with Sergio Busquets glancing home at the front post from Messi’s corner.
Then Barca grew in stature, with Rakitic twice seeing his shots blocked by Mauricio Lemos, the Las Palmas defender. But Messi came up with the crucial second goal, rounding the goalkeeper Leandro Chichizola with ease after latching on to Denis Suarez’s defence-splitting reverse ball. Seven minutes later the game was over, with Messi starting and finishing a slick move that saw him score his 14th goal of the season.
After Rakitic fed Luis Suarez, the Barcelona forward flicked the ball with his first touch in to the path of Messi, who tucked the ball home. Suarez did find the net himself but his acrobatic effort was ruled out after the striker was adjudged to have committed a foul in the buildup to his overhead-kick.