When the ref blew for the end of match, some of the Barcelona fan base muttered something about where his whistle could go. Others yelled about it. Still more tweeted it. Yet the lesson overall is hardly that Turienzo Alvarez is bad referee or, worse, biased - Marca went with a play on words about it and even Raúl Rodríguez, the man who committed the late handball, admitted that it was one - but rather that there are no easy games and never a dull moment when you're the worldwide target.
Perhaps the team were looking forward to Monday’s FIFA gala and Messi's third consecutive Ballon d'Or win (with Xavi coming in 3rd for the 3rd year running as well), but whatever it was, they looked listless and were outplayed. Pochettino put out a squad that, in very imprecise terms, "wanted it more" and filled the midfield. Barca gave the ball away more than Espanyol (88 to 86) while they had fewer shots (9 to 13), which suggests that, in several areas they were outplayed by their city rivals.
There are still 63 points left to play for, so the 5 point lead Madrid has isn't particularly overwhelming, but continuing to play as if the match has been won before it started (as with the loss to Getafe and the squeaker of a win against Granada) will ensure Madrid's chart-topping ways. Yet all of these doldrums are away from home. At the Camp Nou the team continues to smash all their opponents without conceding a goal (though Sevilla managed a scoreless draw), but on the road they've lost a game to Getafe and drawn 4 times.
It's certainly far from time to panic, but if Barcelona wants to maintain the mantle of "best team in the world," it would behove them to show up for away matches and put teams such as Espanyol to the sword when they have the chance. Down 0-1 after 17 minutes, Espanyol stepped it up, rather than putting their tail between their legs and running home to mama as the cules thought they would. The game turned petulant and the ball stopped rolling much, but that isn't much of an excuse for dropping points.
If Barcelona want a fourth consecutive La Liga title, they'll have to win matches like these, rather than draw or lose them. Guardiola, the man who just received the top club managerial award while Messi lifted his golden ball, will have to coach like we all know he can. The team too will have to play like they did against Osasuna, Santos, Al-Sadd, Real Madrid, Levante, and Rayo. They're obviously capable and perhaps this loss will light a fire under them that will carry them through the tough road (matches) ahead. Part of that will determine the Copa del Rey bragging rights between the top 2 as well as Malaga's claim to being competitive with the big boys.
All to play for, but now it's in earnest. As long as the team is willing to learn from Espanyol.