Sunday, January 6, 18:00 GMT
Camp Nou Barcelona
Week 18 of La Liga brings up the always eagerly awaited Catalan derby, with runaway leaders FC Barcelona hosting their relegation threatened neighbours Espanyol at Camp Nou. Barcelona will be looking to continue their almost perfect record (only one draw in 17 matches so far) and are the overwhelming favorites to do so, while for Espanyol any point is a blessing in their quest to avoid relegation.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Tito Vilanova’s outfit will be looking to start the new year much in the same way they ended 2012: winning and winning convincingly. The best news for the club is the return of Tito Vilanova to the dugout after a health scare that sidelined him from matches in late 2012. The players will be especially eager to pay tribute to their manager with a win in his return. Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta will also want to put in a great performance before heading to Switzerland for the annoucement of the best player in the world for 2012, award to which both are among the three finalists.
Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Adriano Correia have all recovered from their injuries during the break and are available for this match; none of them is likely to start but they are bound to get a few minutes and match rhythm for what will be a very tough month of January for Barcelona, with probably eight matches for the league and Copa combined.
Valdés will start in goal as usual, with a defense of Alba, Piqué, Mascherano and Alves ahead of him, although Puyol could be an option in the center as well; in midfield, the ‘golden trio’ of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta should start, with Messi and two of Pedro, Villa, Sanchez and Tello up front. Barcelona will look to seize the initiative from the very start as always, dominating the match through possession and constantly looking for gaps in the Espanyol defense. Fabregas, Adriano and Song could come into the match during the second half, to shake things up if needed or simply get back into form after an injury break.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Victor Valdés; Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta; Pedro Rodriguez, David Villa and Lionel Messi
Espanyol might be almost in the opposite end of the table compared to their city rivals, but Javier Aguirre has done wonders ever since he was appointed, even getting an improbable 2-2 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu. Espanyol are no longer the same team that looked pretty much a lock to go down under Pocchetino. Their defense is much improved and so is their overall confidence on the pitch, which reflects in their play.
Several Espanyol players have expressed their confidence in getting a result at Camp Nou, with goalkeeper Kiko Casilla even defiantly asserting that Barcelona won’t score past him on Sunday. While overconfidence can often be dangerous, Espanyol certainly do seem to have the right attitude ahead of the derby, although they are obviously massive underdogs. Javier Aguirre has experience of upsetting the Catalan juggernaut and will look to do it again at the helm of Espanyol.
The lineup is likely to be very similar to the one that got a point at the Santiago Bernabeu, a 4-2-3-1 with emphasis on defense and Sergio Garcia as the lone striker and Verdu right behind him. Simao and Wakaso will play a key role in Espanyol’s strategy, having to both offer attacking support on the wings and track back Barcelona’s to close down space down the wings in Espanyol’s half of the pitch. It will take a lot of commitment and sacrifice and even a bit of luck to upset the seemingly unstoppable La Liga leaders in their turf, but then again it’s a derby and derbies always have a certain degree of unpredictability.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Casilla; Capdevilla, Moreno, Colotto, Lopez; Sanchez, Forlín; Simao, Verdu, Wakaso; Garcia
Key Match Facts:
- Despite being in the relegation zone, Espanyol haven’t lose a single match since Javier Aguirre took charge, with one win and three draws.
- If Barcelona beat Espanyol and Malaga, they will have the best first half of the season in La Liga history.
- Last season’s corresponding fixture was Pep Guardiola’s last La Liga match at Barcelona and the Catalans won 4-0 with Messi getting all the goals.
TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
All eyes will be on Messi again in his last match before probably being awarded his fourth Ballon d’Or in a row. The Argentine will most definitely look to start the year as he finished the last, scoring and performing at a stratospheric level.
FC Barcelona 3-0 RCD Espanyol
Espanyol will avoid relegation but they won’t get the needed points here. Barcelona will once again prove too strong and get yet another solid win with a Lionel Messi hat trick.