A Gerard Pique header salvaged a draw for Barcelona against Girona as Ernesto Valverde’s team came unstuck in La Liga for the first time this season.
Lionel Messi’s first-half strike had given Barca the advantage, but the game changed when Clement Lenglet was controversially sent off for an elbow. Two Cristhian Stuani goals manoeuvred Girona into the lead, and they stood on the verge of a historic victory over their Catalan rivals until Pique headed home after the hour mark.
Barca pressed late on, with substitute Philippe Coutinho coming close twice, but they were unable to stop two points slipping away, their 100 percent start to the season disappearing.
The reverse fixture is slated to take place in Miami in January. Little was said about that before or during this encounter — by the managers, the players or the supporters, surprisingly — but the game itself showed that Barca will not have things all their own way if they do meet Girona in the United States.
Another routine win looked on the cards when Messi, having already been denied by a brilliant Yassine Bounou save, converted Arturo Vidal’s pass with a crisp first-time finish.
However, the game swing in the 35th minute when Lenglet was sent off on his full La Liga debut. The French defender, at first glance, appeared to expertly cut out a through ball to Pere Pons, but as the Girona midfielder wriggled around on the floor holding his face, referee Gil Manzano asked for backup from VAR. After looking over the replays, it was deemed that Lenglet had caught Pons with an elbow. Out came the red card.
The decision incensed the home supporters, but it spurred on the visitors. By half-time, they were level.
Pique’s slip allowed Stuani in and the former Espanyol striker slotted under Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Shortly after the restart, Girona led. Pique was again at fault, losing his battle with Portu, whose shot was saved by Ter Stegen from close range. But Stuani pounced for the second time, rifling into the top corner with unerring accuracy.
Even facing 10 men, though, holding on for the win was always going to be tough for Girona. No one has beaten Barca at Camp Nou in La Liga since Alaves stunned them in 2016.
Valverde turned to the cavalry, throwing on Ivan Rakitic and Coutinho — Samuel Umtiti had already replaced Ousmane Dembele to cover the loss of Lenglet — and Barca began to pour forward.
Messi hit the bar with one free kick and saw another tipped wide by Bounou. The attacks kept coming and the pressure eventually paid off when Pique made up for his earlier errors by flicking a header past Bounou to earn Barca a point and keep them unbeaten at the top of the table, level with Real Madrid on 13 points from five games.
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