Reigning champions Barcelona will be looking to extend their lead at the top of the table, when they face off against Espanyol on Saturday night.

Barcelona will take a short trip to the Cornella-El Prat this weekend, as they gear up to take on neighbours Espanyol in the Catalan derby in matchweek 15 of the 2018-19 La Liga season.

After two games without a victory in the league, the Blaugrana returned to winning ways when they defeated Villarreal this past weekend. The Catalans followed that up with a 4-1 bashing of Cultural Leonesa in the Copa del Rey earlier this week and will want to carry that momentum into the weekend’s derby.

The fact that Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde played for and coached Espanyol gives an added edge to the encounter. Currently a point ahead of second-placed Sevilla, Barca will be looking to widen the gap further with a victory.

Espanyol made an exceptional start to the campaign and had broken into the top four following a six-game unbeaten run between September and November. However, since their 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao last month, Los Periquitos have lost all three of their league matches against Sevilla, Girona and Getafe.

Stationed seventh on the La Liga table, Rubi’s side did manage to end the losing streak with a narrow 1-0 win over Cadiz in the Copa del Rey during the week and will be hoping to build on that result by beating their neighbours at home for the first time in eleven years.

Team News & Tactics

Espanyol

Naldo and Sergio Garcia are the only two players unavailable for selection for the hosts on Saturday. Having fielded a much-changed side for the cup game earlier this week, head coach Rubi is expected to recall his regulars for the derby.

Espanyol are expected to line up in a 4-3-3 setup against Barcelona, with former Real Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez starting between the sticks, having missed the midweek game. Club captain Javi Lopez should walk back into the lineup at right-back, with Didac Vila getting the nod on the opposite side. David Lopez and Mario Hermoso should feature as the two centre-halves.

22-year-old Marc Roca is set to start at the base of the three-man midfield for Los Periquitos, with support set to come from Sergi Darder and another former Real Madrid star Esteban Granero.

Hernan Perez came on from the bench to fire Espanyol to a victory against Cadiz in the midweek and should start out on the right flank against Barcelona. Seasoned campaigner Pablo Piatti should hold on to his spot on the left side, with leading goalscorer Borja Iglesias set to spearhead the attack.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Diego Lopez; Javi Lopez, David Lopez, Hermoso, Vila; Darder, Roca, Granero; Perez, Iglesias, Piatti

Barcelona

The champions have been boosted by the return of star striker Luis Suarez, having been sidelined for the past few games with injuries. However, Sergi Roberto remains absent, along with Samuel Umtiti, while Rafinha Alcantara is a long-term absentee. Summer arrival Malcom is set for a brief spell on the treatment table.

Having made a few changes to the team for the cup game, Valverde is set to field his strongest possible XI for the derby on Saturday. Marc-Andre ter Stegen should return in goal in place of Jasper Cillessen, who started against Cultural Leonesa earlier this week.

Nelson Semedo should be retained at right-back, but the rest of the backline will be in for a change, with Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet and Jordi Alba all set to return, having sat out of the cup tie.

In the middle of the park, Ivan Rakitic should feature from the get go, having set up three goals in the last game. Sergio Busquets, who made an appearance from the bench on Wednesday, should start from the kick off at the base of the midfield. Arthur is unavailable once again, meaning Arturo Vidal will feature in the middle, having sat out of the cup game with fever.

In attack, Lionel Messi will be moved out to the right flank, with Luis Suarez set to return in the centre-forward role. Ousmane Dembele is likely to pip Philippe Coutinho for a spot on the left side, owing to recent form.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Vidal; Messi, Suarez, Dembele

Key Stats

  • Barcelona’s last success away to Espanyol in La Liga was a 3-0 win in April 2017.
  • Espanyol last overcame Barcelona in La Liga back in 2009, with that victory occurring at Camp Nou. However, they have not beaten their neighbours at home in the league since January 2007.
  • Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has not won any of his eight managerial away games against Espanyol in LaLiga (D3 L5).
  • Espanyol have lost their last three La Liga games – they’ve not lost four in a row since May 2012.
  • Barcelona have scored the most goals from both open play (28) and set piece situations (9) in La Liga this season.

Player to Watch

Luis Suarez

Back in action (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Back in action (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

So far in the 2018-19 season, Suarez has found the back of the net on 9 occasions in 18 matches and has set up six more goals as well. After a rather dull start to the season by his usual standards, the Uruguayan international was getting back into his groove, until a knee injury sidelined him for Barcelona’s last three matches across all competitions.

Fit again, he should be back into action against the champions’ local rivals on Saturday. The 31-year-old has been an influential presence in the Catalan derbies in the past, having had a hand in 11 goals in his eight La Liga games against Los Periquitos (7 goals, 4 assists). Expect him to make an impact in the weekend encounter at Estadio Cornella-El Prat.

Prediction

Espanyol 0-2 Barcelona

Espanyol made an excellent start to the campaign, but have hit a rough patch of late. They haven’t had the best of fortunes in derbies at home, having failed to beat Barcelona in their own backyard since way back in 2007.

The reigning champions have picked up three wins in a row now, after a brief period when results did not go their way. While they haven’t exactly been at the top of their game, Ernesto Valverde’s men have enough quality in their ranks to see off their neighbours without much trouble at the weekend.

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