Barcelona will face their biggest test so far in the La Liga on Saturday when they face-off against Espanyol in the Catalan derby at Camp Nou.

Barcelona will prepare to face what could potentially be their toughest test yet in the La Liga as they meet local rivals Espanyol at home on Saturday. Ernesto Valverde’s men have had successive 2-0 wins over Betis and Alaves in their first two league matches and are back in action with a Catalan derby this weekend.

All eyes have been on Barcelona to see how they fare without Neymar and the Spanish giants did manage to hold up quite well, and the club will looking to maintain their winning momentum. Although Espanyol are unlikely to be rolled over easily, Valverde will be hoping for a positive result.

Espanyol, on the other hand, will hope to cause a nasty upset for their Catalan rivals with a solid display at the Nou Camp. The club did start well with a draw against Sevilla, but they slipped to a surprise defeat to Leganes in the second week. They will be aware of Barcelona’s prowess and also remain confident about their abilities.

The Hard Tackle takes a look at both squads ahead of the match:

Team News and Tactics

Barcelona

Ivan Rakitic will be doubtful with a muscle problem and is unlikely to be risked against Espanyol while Rafinha could be sidelined yet again. Arda Turan is expected to miss out after returning from international duty with a thigh problem, but Luis Suarez is back in contention for a starting spot.

Ousmane Dembele is set to make his Barcelona debut and the France forward is expected to start on the left of attack in Neymar’s old position as Suarez is likely to return to the centre of the attack. Rakitic looks set to miss out, so Valverde could hand a debut to Paulinho and choose to rest Andres Iniesta.

Barcelona will be out to maintain a solid start and keep pressure on rivals Real Madrid, who host Levante tomorrow in an attempt to make up following dropped points ahead of the international break. The reason behind resting a few key players is the fact that the Spanish giants will have to play Juventus in a Champions League clash on Tuesday.

The stage is set – now, it all comes down to how Barcelona manage to maintain their form bereft Neymar. Ousmane Dembele could get off to a bright start as the new triumvirate tests things out on field before they line up against Juventus. Barcelona will fight hard for a victory with an amazing opportunity for their debutantes to shine.

Predicted lineup (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Paulinho, Busquets, Sergi Roberto; Messi, Suarez, Dembele.

barcelona

Espanyol

Espanyol midfielder Victor Sanchez and striker Alvaro Vazquez will look to shake off knocks in time for the game against Barcelona. Goalkeeper Diego Lopez is doubtful, while defender Oscar Duarte and midfielder Javi Lopez are set to miss out.

Quique Sanchez Flores has previously had major troubles with his team’s efficiency in the final third at the start of the new season – a fact Valverde could look to exploit. Periquitos showed a decent display on the opening day when they held Sevilla to a 1-1 draw but they ruined it all with a poor performance against Leganes.

Tackling Messi can prove to be a daunting task for even the best of sides and Espanyol will certainly have their work cut out for them in that regard. Interestingly, at just 20 years of age, their left back Aaron Caricol will be tasked with keeping the Barcelona talisman at bay, and that will prove to be an interesting encounter.

Pablo Piatti could be Espanyol’s biggest threat as they embark upon another Camp Nou challenge. Piatti has pace and trickery, and he could offer the club a much-needed counter-attacking outlet on Saturday evening against their rivals Barcelona.

Predicted lineup (4-4-2): Diego Lopez, Sergio Sanchez, David Lopez, Naldo Gomes, Aaron; Fuego, Diop, Piatti, Jurado; Baptistao, Gerard.

espanyol

Key Stats

  • Lionel Messi is the all-time top scorer in the Catalan derby with 15 goals.
  • Barcelona have won 13 consecutive games at home in La Liga, their best run since January 2014.
  • Espanyol have lost eight games in a row at Camp Nou, their worst run since May 2004.
  • Espanyol have gone 16 games without a win against Barcelona in La Liga.
  • This best proves the domination Blaugrana have had over Espanyol in recent times.

Prediction

Barcelona 3 – 1 Espanyol

Given the current situation, it is difficult to see anything beyond a Barcelona win this weekend. With Messi’s blistering form, the introduction of Dembele and the return of Suarez, they are sure to get a few goals. Since it is a highly passionate derby, one cannot completely write Espanyol off.

Even if they do manage to net a goal, the three precious points still appear to belong to Barcelona, helping them maintain their dominion on the La Liga table. Thus, the hosts will get a nice chance to keep their lead intact while also continuing their unbeaten streak in the new season.

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