Barcelona open 2016 with derby setback at Espanyol

Barcelona struck the woodwork twice but were unable to make a winning start to 2016 as they were held to a goalless draw at local rivals Espanyol.

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez each hit the frame of the goal for Barca but otherwise the reigning European and Spanish champions produced few moments to savor against their determined rivals as the spoils were shared.

"They [Espanyol] were very intense but that was something we knew before the game," Barcelona manager Luis Enrique told reporters following the goalless draw. "We created chances but our opponents defended well."

Espanyol struggled to create too many openings themselves but were more than worthy of the draw and become only the fifth team to take points off Barcelona this season in the league.

Although they will be disappointed at being unable to kick start the new year with a victory, Barca will doubtless recall that 2015 also got off on the wrong foot, losing at Real Sociedad, but still finished the year holding five trophies.

They will also have a shot at revenge over Espanyol in the coming days when they meet on Wednesday at the Nou Camp for the first leg of their Copa del Rey Round of 16 tie.

After resting Andres Iniesta, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique in the 3-0 win over Real Betis, Luis Enrique fielded his best starting X1 for the short trip to the Power 8 stadium, playing an identical side to the one that beat River Plate in the FIFA Club World Cup final.

But a line-up brimming with talent did not stop Espanyol from matching them for the 90 minutes, pressing the visitors hard and launching quick counter-attacks, with Javier Mascherano needing to be quick on a couple of occasions to cut out the danger early on.

Always the city's more modest team, former player Constantin Galca has turned Espanyol into a far tougher unit in the three weeks he has been in charge since succeeding Sergio Gonzalez, who was sacked after a run of two wins in 11 games.

The Romanian, who led Steaua Bucharest to a domestic treble last season, won his first league game in charge of the Catalans and lost his second but this was his new team's best performance yet, reducing Luis Enrique's world beaters to a shy and ponderous outfit.

With no away fans allowed in the stadium, Barca had little respite in a hostile atmosphere and nearly fell behind midway the first half when goalkeeper Claudio Bravo failed to deal with a corner and it spilled across his goal mouth, but Pique was there to boot it away.

Barca managed just three shots in the first half and typically it was Messi who came closest to scoring, bending a free-kick off the upright.

Real Madrid loanee Marco Asensio was Espanyol's biggest threat and he came close to giving the hosts the lead early in the second half when he burst free down the right and caught a sight of goal, but his shot rolled just the wrong side of the far post.

At the other end Barca created their clearest sight of goal yet. Espanyol failed to clear and Suarez pounced on the loose ball, rounding Alvaro Gonzalez and then Lopez to create an open goal for himself, only to shoot against the near post.

A minute later Neymar came flying down the left to cut the ball back, but there was no-one to meet it and Espanyol cleared. Messi and Neymar both tried to beat the reliable Lopez later on, but their efforts were lacking in power. So was Barcelona's performance.

"We always expect an intense Espanyol, pressuring a lot," a disappointed Gerard Pique to reporters after the match. "It was an uncomfortable game."