Saturday, 17:00 CET
Cornellà-El Prat, Barcelona
This weekend will see another edition of the Catalan derby in La Liga, one whose result will have very important ramifications. A lot has changed in the Spanish League over the past week; Real Madrid looked like they could take a decisive step towards the title, but first Lionel Messi and then Carlos Bacca relegated Ancelotti’s side to the third position, while after winning at the Bernabeu and at home against Celta, Barcelona are now second in the table – only one point behind Atlético. Needless to say, Espanyol would love nothing more than derailing their city rivals title bid and they’ve shown in years past that they can make life hell for Barcelona at the Cornella del Prat. This promises to be one of the toughest matches in Barcelona’s run-in, if not the toughest.
The match is even more important considering that Atlético Madrid have an extremely difficult trip to San Mamés, where there’s a more than decent likelihood they can drop points, which make this week an opportunity for Barcelona to take the lead in La Liga should they beat their neighbours and rivals.
Teams News and Tactical Brief
Espanyol might have no goals of their own left to fight for in La Liga, but they won’t be any short of motivation for this derby. Aside from the usual motivation a derby always brings, Espanyol have a great chance to once again ruin Barcelona’s title challenge, albeit never as spectacularly as Raul Tamudo did at Camp Nou back in 2007. The stadium will be full and the supporters will demand nothing less than maximum effort from Javier Aguirre’s side.
The experienced Mexican manager will field Casilla in goal, with Fuentes, Moreno, Colotto and Lopez ahead of him, shielded by Lopez and Sanchez. Simao, Pizzi and Stuani will play behind the sole striker Sergio Garcia. From a strategic point of view, Aguirre is likely to remain faithful to the club’s philosophy and the formula that has allowed Espanyol to cause so many problems to Barcelona in their stadium in recent years. Espanyol will not simply sit back, they will look the press Barcelona all over the pitch and play with full intensity from the very first kick. That’s the only way they can have a chance against a very motivated Barcelona side, who seem to be peaking at the moment.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Casilla; Fuentes, Moreno, Colotto, Lopez; Lopez, Sanchez; Simao, Pizzi, Stuani; Garcia
It can’t be stressed enough how important this match is for Barcelona; with the title race set to go down to the wire, any lost point might end up being the difference between glory and failure in the end. Aside from the match against Atlético Madrid in the last day at Camp Nou, this (short) trip to Espanyol is arguably the toughest test Barcelona will face in this final run-in, passing it will allow them to build a sort of momentum and confidence that could well take the club to yet another league title, while failure to get a win would cast doubts over the team all over again after and halt the momentum built recently.
The players will also be looking to dedicate the victory and the title to Victor Valdés, who probably played his last match with the Barcelona jersey on Wedndesday as injury won’t allow him to play against this season. As such, Pinto will be in goal, with Alba, Piqué, Mascherano and Alves ahead of him. In midfield, Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta should start as usual, behind Messi, Pedro and Neymar up front. One factor that might influence Tata Martino’s team selection is the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals against Atlético Madrid in midweek, but the margin for error in La Liga is so slim that Martino can’t really afford to take any risks, let alone rest for key players for the Champions League.
After the win last week at the Bernabeu, another away win against Barcelona’s other historic rivals is just the push the team needs to go all the way in this year’s La Liga. This match will play a massive role in the club’s season and there’s absolutely no room for complacency; Barcelona will be looking to assert their authority from the very first minute and score as early as possible.
Probable Lineup: Pinto; Alba, Piqué, Mascherano, Alves; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Neymar and Messi
Key Match Facts
- Lionel Messi has never scored from open play away at Espanyol.
- Before the win at the Bernabeu, Barcelona had lost their last two away matches in La Liga.
- Last season’s corresponding fixture ended 2-0 to Barcelona.
Player to Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
He might have taken longer than usual to reach his best form this season, but he has ‘arrived’ just in time to help Barcelona in this final and decisive stretch of the season. With 7 goals in the past three matches, including a hattrick at the Bernabeu, Lionel Messi has shown why he’s considered the best of his generation and he will be looking to continue that stunning form to lead Barcelona to a win in yet another extremely important match.
RCD Espanyol 1-2 FC Barcelona
Espanyol will not be an easy opponent to break down, but Barcelona have all the momentum going for them right now and will eke out a close win to perhaps rise to the top of the table should Atlético drop points at San Mamés. Lionel Messi will once again be the star of the show.