Barcelona welcome an in-form Espanyol side to Nou Camp for what promises to be an exciting Catalan derby, as they look to end the calendar year with their first home La Liga victory since October.
Both sides will be looking to end the calendar year as the top team in Catalonia with a victory tomorrow. Espanyol have been in a superb run of form in the league and will surely fancy their chances to continue that good run into the new year, whilst Barcelona are desperate to reduce the points gap with Real Madrid, who won’t be playing until the start of next year. The Catalans haven’t enjoyed the best run of form in recent weeks, but now with a full strength squad available, they will surely hope to end the year on a high.
Luis Enrique will have a full strength squad to choose from. Only French defender Jeremy Mathieu didn’t train with the squad in their final session ahead of the match. No prizes for predicting that the Champions will line up in their usual 4-3-3 formation.
Ter Stegen will take his place in goal, Roberto and Alba at fullback and Umiti and Pique will line up in the center of defence. They will come up against Espanyol’s Moreno, Baptistao and Caicedo, who are in fine form and cannot be allowed any time on the ball. Espanyol aren’t a team to create too many chances, but they are adept and have rarely been wasteful this term regarding their finishing.
Andre Gomes is expected to be sacrificed for Ivan Rakitic in a midfield also comprising of Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. Messi, Suarez and Neymar will lead the line against Espanyol, and they will be coming up against one of the best defensive setups in the league.
Barcelona’s front line will be Espanyol’s biggest test so far this season, but one that they will believe they can match up to. As usual, the champions will be expected to see more of the ball, but that’s something the Periquitos will come prepared for. There will be constant pressure from Espanyol when they don’t have the ball and Luis Enrique will be well aware of how his side can be punished by giving them too much space.
Predicted Lineup(4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Alba, Pique, Mascherano, Roberto; Iniesta, Busquets, Rakitic; Neymar, Suarez, Messi
Only Pablo Piatti and Alvarez are doubtful for today’s game, but the former should make the starting XI after a recovery. Other than these two, Quique Sanchez Flores has no serious injury concerns within his squad. Espanyol will line up in their usual 4-4-2 formation which can become a 4-3-3 formation when Baptistao takes up a more attacking role.
Espanyol have no qualms in sitting back and letting their opposition have most of the ball. They will be expecting to see lesser of the ball throughout the game, given Barcelona’s penchant for keeping possession. However, the midfield will be expected to apply constant pressure on the opposition and force them into making errors.
Moreno and Caicedo will likely be leading the line for Espanyol against Barcelona and will fancy their chances against a leaky defence, who especially haven’t been performing to the required standards at home. However, given that it is Barcelona, they will drop deep into the midfield to help their side’s defence. Their best chances for scoring will come in quick and efficient counter attacks.
Predicted Lineup (4-4-2): Diego Lopez; Caricol, Lopez, Reyes, Sanchez; Piatti, Jurado, Fuego, Baptistao; Caicedo, Moreno
- Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has scored the most number of goals in the history of this fixture, with 16.
- Espanyol have not conceded a goal away from home since Osasuna in September.
- Barcelona’s last victory at the Nou Camp in a La Liga fixture was in October.
- Espanyol are unbeaten in their previous 6 away Liga games.
- Barcelona have only won 3 out of their last 7 competitive fixtures in all competitions.
Players To Watch
Barcelona: Andres Iniesta
It is no surprise that Iniesta’s return to the squad has coincided with Barcelona’s sudden return to form. The captain’s return after a long term injury has seen the champions notch up a draw against Real Madrid and 2 comprehensive victories against Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League and Osasuna away from home in the La Liga. Iniesta shares a special bond with the Espanyol fans, but the Spaniard will show no mercy as he looks to run the show from midfield and make life a whole lot easier for a grateful ‘MSN’ upfront.
Barcelona 2-1 Espanyol
Barcelona will be desperate to end the year with a home win, having not tasted a La Liga victory at the Nou Camp since October. They will be boosted by the return of skipper Andres Iniesta to the squad and there will no better way to end the year than with a win in a derby. However, Espanyol boast the most in-from defence in La Liga at the moment and a repeat of last season’s 5-0 thrashing is highly unlikely. Barcelona have only recently begun to gain momentum and it is expected that will emerge out of this victorious, if only just.