Estadi Cornellà-El Prat
Sunday, May 26, 20:00 GMT
The Barcelona derby might be one of the biggest derbies in Spain, but this one has a very insignificant (as much as a derby can be insignificant) feel to it, as Barcelona have already secured the title, while Espanyol have nothing to play for anymore, with relegation safely avoided and Europe out of reach. The only thing both teams will play for is pride, with Barcelona perhaps aiming at ending the season with 100 points – for which they’d need to win their final two matches.
The very recent Neymar signing might also perhaps provide some morale boost to Barcelona.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Espanyol might not have anything left to play for in La Liga, but beating Barcelona in itself would be a great achievement for them considering their general lack of success in this rivalry. Javier Aguirre has improved Espanyol to no end after replacing Pocchetino, and he will be looking to cap it off by beating Espanyol’s city rivals. If there was ever a good time to do it, it is now with Barcelona’s motivation far from its highest and Espanyol having pretty much everyone available for this match.
Aguirre is likely to employ his traditional 4-2-3-1 strategy, with Casilla in goal, Lopez, Colotto, Moreno and Capdevilla at the back, with Sanchez and Forlin shielding them. Stuani, Wakaso and Verdu will play behind the sole striker Sergio Garcia. As always against Barcelona, the strategy will consist of closing down the blaugrana as well as possible and exploit the inevitable gaps in their defense through quick, effective counterattacks. The absence of Lionel Messi will obviously make Espanyol’s task much easier as it vastly reduces Barcelona’s attacking threat in every way, and give Espanyol’s wide players more freedom to attack as Barcelona’s own wide men generally cease to be potent goal threats when Messi is not around to feed them.
While there might be no league objectives to play for, several Espanyol plays have guaranteed that their motivation will be very high for this match as a great opportunity to get one over Barcelona has come up. You can expect Aguirre’s side to display maximum intensity from the start.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1) : Casilla; Lopez, Coloto, Moreno, Capdevilla; Sanchez, Forlin; Stuani, Wakaso, Verdu; Sergio Garcia
Barcelona have already been crowned champions and while the 100 points goal remains it is not very easy to find the proper motivation at this point in the season. Neymar’s signing might actually provide an interesting morale boost ahead of this match though, as it was secured officially a few hours ago, as well as drive some of the team’s forwards to try even harder to impress and keep their place next season.
Last week against Valladolid, Tito surprised more by playing a full strength team (Messi apart) while many expected him to use these last few matches to give youth players a chance like Guardiola used to. It is unclear whether he will do it again, but considering the derby is a more significant match in itself than a home match against Valladolid it is very possible that he might. Without Messi, the front three would be Pedro, Fabregas and one of Sanchez or Villa, with a midfield trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta behind them. At the back, Valdés will be the keeper, with Alba, Piqué, Mascherano and Alves ahead of him.
In the event that Tito decides to rotate the squad this time around, though, we might get to see the likes of Thiago, Montoya, Tello and co. feature. Either way, regardless of who starts, nothing will change as far as Barcelona’s approach to the match is concerned, as always they will to dominate through possession and quick accurate passing from the very first minute. It remains to be seen what sort of intensity the team will display given the low stakes in this match; last week’s match against Valladolid clearly suggested that the team might not be completely focus at this time of the season.
Probable Lineup (4-1-2-3): Victor Valdés; Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta; Pedro Rodriguez, Cesc Fabregas, David Villa
Key Match Facts
- Espanyol have scored 43 goals all season, three fewer than Lionel Messi alone.
- Last season’s match ended 1-1.
- The corresponding fixture at Camp Nou ended 4-0 for Barcelona.
Player to Watch Out For
Andrés Iniesta (FC Barcelona)
With Lionel Messi out, Iniesta is the one the fans expect to bail the team out of trouble if needed and produce constant magic on the pitch. He’s also the only Barcelona player who will receive cheers from the home crowd due to his friendships and tributes to Dani Jarque.
Espanyol 2-1 FC Barcelona
Espanyol’s superior motivation and intensity will see them get a rare derby win over a Barcelona side that lacks the legs and motivation at this point in the season, not to mention Lionel Messi.