Camp Nou, Barcelona
Sunday 7th Dec, 2014, 16:00 GMT
Barcelona are eagerly awaiting their upcoming Catalan derby against Espanyol tonight. Despite being separated by a margin of 17 points, the historic rivalry between the two clubs makes the game considerably difficult and much more special than any other ordinary game. The rivalry became ferocious after the Blaugranas won their first League title in 1929. Continued success at both domestic and international level means the Camp Nou giants are currently miles ahead of their city rivals in terms of growth rate, worldwide fans, budget and quality in the squad. Barcelona have scored 12 goals without conceding once in the last five derbies, claiming three points in every single game. In fact Los Pericos have not managed to score at the Camp Nou since February 2009. But such stats count for little before the derby.
Bacelona will be targeting a seventh successive win tonight. Enrique has witnessed his side recover from defeats to Real Madrid and Celta Vigo to remain just 2 points behind the leaders at the top of the table. Espanyol travel to the Camp Nou having ended their run of 5 league defeats with a 2-1 win over Levante.The win saw them move upto 12th place in the standings to create distance between themselves and the relegation zone.
Team news and tactical brief
Although the derby is significant but Barcelona will have an eye on the PSG game next Wednesday which will decide which team gets the crucial first spot in the group. Luis Enrique might be tempted to bench some of the big names while Pedro, Rakitic and Rafinha could come into the starting lineup. If Barca beat Espanyol without conceding they will reach an unprecedented record of seven straight wins against their city rivals without defeat. The Blaugrana have conceded only six goals this season in La Liga and they are the best in the league in terms of not conceding goals, with nine clean sheets in thirteen games. If they beat Espanyol and Claudio Bravo keeps a clean sheet, they’ll make history in the Catalan Derby.
Barcelona come into the match in good form with their last gasp win over Valencia keeping them near the top of the table. Marc Bartra is likely to keep his place in defence after his impressive display against Huesca. Both coaches have almost full squads to pick from on Sunday, with Thomas Vermaelen (hamstring) the only player definitely missing for Barca. The current Barcelona midfielders are still struggling to find the balance between their traditional ideas and incorporating the more direct approach Enrique is trying to implement. Despite having already shown glimpses of being a fantastic link-up striker, Luis Suarez is yet to fully adapt to his new attacking partners Lionel Messi and Neymar. Barcelona have made considerable improvements in defence. The arrival of Jeremy Mathieu, the progress of Marc Bartra and Gerard Pique’s recent displays has strengthened their back line considerably. In fact, Barca have only conceded six goals in 13 matches, the best record in the whole of La Liga.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Bravo(GK); Alves, Pique, Mathieu, Alba; Iniesta, Rakitic, Busquetes; Suarez, Messi, Neymar
Team news and tactical brief
Espanyol are very strong at creating chances using through balls behind the defence, with the assists being shared evenly throughout the team. Espanyol love attacking from the flanks, especially the right-side is their stronger channel with Vasquez playing there. They struggle to keep possession of the ball and are poor at defending counter-attacks, set-pieces and long shots.It is highly unlikely to see them keep a clean sheet tonight against a potent Barca frontline. There is also room for improvement with aerial duels. In terms of style of play, Espanyol like to play with long balls, attempt crosses and through balls often and are aggressive, as their 36 yellow cards (and 1 red) tally for the season so far attests.
Espanyol’s manager, Sergio, has been flirting between a 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and other variations all season. To be honest it seems that he is yet to find out what his best tactics or formation is. This deduction is highlighted by the fact that his starting line-up is not as consistent as some of the other teams in the league. Preferably a 4-2-3-1 or 4-5-1 (or a variation) are the only viable options in a large pitch as the Camp Nou’s. A 4-4-2 might leave Espanyol’s midfield too stretched and exposed, while the two strikers would be rather isolated up front.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Casilla(Gk); Arbilla, Bertrand, Colotto, Fuentes; Vazquez, Canas, Sanchez, Sevilla; Caicedo, Garcia
Barcelona have won their last 5 derbies against Espanyol in La Liga without conceding a single goal
Espanyol have not scored against Barca at the Camp Nou since Ivan De la Pena’s brace back in 2009
Indeed Espanyol’s run of 5 away league games against Barcelona without scoring is their longest ever drought in this fixture
Players to Watch Out For
Luis Suarez (Barcelona)
The Uruguay striker likes to score in local derby games. He has scored in five of the six games for Liverpool against Everton. Suarez is yet to find the net for Barça in La Liga matches, although he missed some pretty easy chances in last Sunday’s win against Valencia. Suárez is close to getting fully fit, and his first domestic goal for Barça will come, sooner or later.
Sergio Garcia (Espanyol)
True quality isn’t easy to come by at Espanyol these days, but if there is one man with enough class to hurt Barça, it’s veteran forward Sergio García. The La Masia product has been in top form since last year, scoring 12 goals and assisting 9 more in 2013/14.He was voted Catalan player of the year ahead of more prominent names like Xavi and Cesc Fabregas back in November. Despite struggling with injuries this season the Espanyol captain has managed to play a part in 6 league goals, assisting 2 and scoring 4. His most recent was a brilliant winner against Levante, involving a sharp turn, quick feet and precise shot.
FC Barcelona 4-0 Espanyol
Barcelona have rarely looked weak at home this season, while Espanyol don’t travel well against the better sides. Conceding in all but one of their six away league trips doesn’t bode well for the underdogs.
Blast From the Past
Barcelona won the corresponding fixture 1-0 last year thanks to a Sanchez goal in the 67th minute of a tightly fought encounter.