La Liga leaders Barcelona will be aiming to consolidate their place atop the table when they take on local rivals Espanyol at the RCDE Stadium on Saturday.

La Liga action has resumed this week after the fortnight-long winter break, as teams feature for the first time in 2020. Derby action will end the proceedings for Saturday, as Espanyol play hosts to Catalan rivals Barcelona at the RCDE Stadium.

For Espanyol, 2019-20 has been a tale of two competitions. Los Periquitos have been in fine form in the Europa League, reaching the Round of 32 with ease, but have struggled horribly in La Liga and are rooted to the bottom of the table. Having amassed just 10 points from their first 18 games, Pablo Machin was shown the door during the winter break, with Abelardo now taking charge.

Barcelona, on the other hand, have found stable footing after an inconsistent start to the season, wherein they were struggling on their travels. Heading into the winter break, the defending champions had opened up a two-point lead atop the standings, following a comfortable 4-1 win over Alaves.

The corresponding fixture last season ended in a 4-0 win for Barcelona, with captain Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele on target for the La Liga champions. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Espanyol

Abelardo will take charge of his first game as Espanyol boss. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Abelardo will take charge of his first game as Espanyol boss. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Abelardo has a few pressing injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of his first game in-charge of Espanyol. Against Barcelona on Saturday, the newly-appointed Espanyol boss is set to be without as many as three first-team players.

The right-back slot will be the source of major concern, with Sebastien Corchia on the sidelines with a knee injury. Other than Corchia, Abelardo will also be bereft of the services of Victor Sanchez (knee) and Matias Vargas (ankle).

Abelardo should keep things simple in his first match as the Espanyol manager, deploying the side in a 4-4-2 formation, with twin blocks of four aiming to stifle Barcelona when off the ball. Veteran goalkeeper Diego Lopez will take his place in goal.

In Corchia’s absence, Javi Lopez ought to start on the right side of the Espanyol defence, with Adria Pedrosa getting a chance to impress on the left. Fernando Calero and David Lopez ought to partner up at the heart of the Espanyol defence.

Marc Roca and Sergi Darder are likely to reprise the two no. 6 roles, with their primary task being to provide cover to the Espanyol backline. Darder will also be charged with transitioning play from defence to attack, linking up with the two wide men, who ought to be Lei Wu and Oscar Melendo. Jonathan Calleri and Victor Campuzano will, meanwhile, form the strike partnership.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Diego Lopez; Javi Lopez, David Lopez, Calero, Pedrosa; Melendo, Darder, Roca, Wu; Campuzano, Calleri

Espanyol

Barcelona

Like his counterpart in the Espanyol dugout, Ernesto Valverde has a few key players unavailable ahead of his side’s first game of the year. On Saturday, the Barcelona manager will be without three first-team players.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen is sidelined with a knee injury and in his absence Neto will make his first start in La Liga in Barcelona colours. Other than ter Stegen, Arthur (groin) and Ousmane Dembele (hamstring) also remain unavailable for Barcelona.

Valverde should name a strong starting lineup for his team’s first outing of 2020, meaning Nelson Semedo and Jordi Alba are likely to form the full-back pairing. Gerard Pique should have Clement Lenglet as his partner at the heart of the Barcelona defence, with Neto in goal, as iterated earlier.

In Arthur’s absence, Ivan Rakitic is likely to get another opportunity, with Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets being regulars in the middle of the park. Upfront, there is no looking past the in-form trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Neto; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; de JongBusquets, Rakitic; Messi, Suarez, Griezmann

Barcelona

Key Stats

  • ​Barcelona and Espanyol have faced each other on 36 occasions so far, with the Blaugrana dominating proceedings with 25 wins (D8 L3).
  • Espanyol have the worst home record in La Liga by some distance, having drawn two and lost seven of their nine fixtures at RCDE Stadium so far this term.
  • Barcelona have lost three of their nine La Liga games on the road this season, but have accrued seven points from their last three away games.
  • Barcelona have failed to find the back of the net more than twice in all but one of their nine away fixtures so far.
  • Antoine Griezmann has scored three goals in his last four La Liga appearances, one fewer than he had in his previous 13 matches for Barcelona in the competition.

Player to Watch

Neto

Net is set for a rare start in the absence of Marc-Andre ter Stegen. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Net is set for a rare start in the absence of Marc-Andre ter Stegen. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Since joining Barcelona from Valencia in the summer, Neto has had to bide his time, as was widely expected, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen the firm first-choice goalkeeper for the Catalans. Till date, the Brazilian has featured just once for the Blaugrana, but is now set for his La Liga debut for the club.

With ter Stegen out injured, Neto is set for a rare extended run between the sticks, starting against Espanyol. While he is unlikely to hold on to his place, come what may, once ter Stegen returns, for now Neto will revel in the prospect of representing Barcelona on the pitch for the foreseeable future. An excited period beckons.

Prediction

Espanyol 0-2 Barcelona

The famous “new manager bounce” is often a factor whenever a manager takes charge of his first game at a club. However, considering the clinical form that Barcelona have been in lately, it will be quite a surprise if Espanyol manage to take anything from the game, which will be Abelardo’s first since being appointed as the new head coach.

Things are unlikely to be as dismal as the corresponding fixture from last season, and Espanyol should be tight at the back. However, with Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez in top form, Barcelona should have more than enough quality to prevail on the night. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 win for the reigning La Liga champions.

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