Barcelona get ready for their first derby under Quique Setien as they host RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on Matchday 35 of La Liga.
The games continue to come rapidly in La Liga as Barcelona hope to continue their winning ways when they take on arch-rivals RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou in Gameweek 35.
Barcelona put together a sublime display against an in-form Villarreal side last time out as they recorded a 4-1 win. The game was almost infamously dubbed as their best performance under Quique Setien by the fanbase who resorted to a change in formation to take them across the line against the Yellow Submarine.
Despite the win, the Blaugranas sit four points adrift of leaders Real Madrid who do not seem ready to drop any points at the moment. Their lead in the league has been a result of Barcelona dropping points in three of their last five games. On Wednesday, they welcome derby opponents Espanyol in what will be Setien’s first derby in charge of the club.
Espanyol sit rock bottom in the league with a mere 24 points, recording just five wins throughout the campaign, one of which has come after football resumed in Spain on 13th June. It’s also their only win in seven games since that date. They are 11 points off safety, and if they do not manage a win against Barcelona, they will be relegated.
The previous round of fixture included a battle at the bottom of the league as Espanyol hosted Leganes, but were beaten 1-0 courtesy of a Jonathan Silva goal. This was also the fourth game running they have lost with a one-goal margin since a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Levante on Matchday 30.
The reverse fixture against Espanyol was not kind towards Barcelona who were held to a 2-2 draw, in a game where Frenkie de Jong was sent off. Barcelona were able to to take a 2-1 lead in the 59th minute, which was undone by a goal from Wu Lei half an hour later. The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at the upcoming derby.
Team News & Tactics
There are no fresh injury concerns for Quique Setien to cater to since their game against Villarreal. Samuel Umtiti (knee), Frenkie de Jong (calf) and, Ousmane Dembele (hamstring) are all expected to be out for the season and will not travel to the stadium.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen will continue in goal for Barcelona and will hope for a clean sheet tomorrow after failing to keep one in three games straight. He will be screened by Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet who will start in the heart of the defence. Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo will provide width from the back.
Setien would want to continue with the 4-3-1-2, with Ivan Rakitic replacing Sergio Busquets as the anchor in midfield. Arturo Vidal and Arthur Melo will flank him on the right and left respectively. The Brazilian has not clocked in any minutes since his move to Juventus was confirmed, but is expected to start on Wednedsay as Barcelona fall short of midfielders.
Riqui Puig will take up the attacking midfield role after impressing in every game he has played this season, especially his masterclass performance against Atletico Madrid. Alex Collado, too, can take up this position against Espanyol, but will only be a part of the equation if Arthur refuses to continue at the club.
Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann will retain their spots in the lineup and will start up front in the two-person striker system. The latter produced a man of the match display against Villarreal after finding his feet in a position he prefers. Luis Suarez is also in contention to start, but could be benched to avoid fatigue.
Probable Lineup (4-3-1-2): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Vidal, Rakitic, Arthur; Puig; Messi, Griezmann
For the fourth game running, Espanyol have no squad concerns to cater to as they travel to the other side of the city. Sebastien Corchia was the only player injured for Francisco Rufete, but he has returned to Sevilla after his loan expired as June ended.
Espanyol will continue in their 4-4-2 with Raul de Tomas leading the line alongside Wu Lei, who will hope to score for the second time this season against Barcelona.
Marc Roca and captain David Lopez will start the game as the double pivot, as Adrian Embarba and Oscar Melendo arch them on the right and left flanks respectively. Lopez will have more license to join the attack while Roca acts as the deep playmaker. Victor Sanchez could be given the nod ahead of the captain, though, because he has started all games since the resumption.
The defence will feature Didac Vila and Victor Gomez in full-back roles on the left and right respectively, while Leandro Cabrera and Bernardo Espinosa will marshal the defence playing in the centre. Veteran Diego Lopez will hold the fort for Espanyol in the six-yard-box.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Diego Lopez; Gomez, Espinosa, Cabrera, Vila; Embarba, David Lopez, Roca, Melendo; Lei, Raul
- Lionel Messi is the all-time top scorer in the history of the Catalan Derby with 25 goals.
- He also holds the record of most appearances made against RCD Espanyol, with 34.
- Francisco Rufete replaced Abelardo Fernandez to become Espanyol’s fourth manager this season. The latter was in charge of the team for only a month before he was sacked.
- It has been more than a decade since Espanyol last won against Barcelona in the league. The match in question was in 2008, at Camp Nou when Barcelona lost 2-1.
- The last time Espanyol kept a clean sheet against Barcelona was in 2018/19’s Copa del Rey quarter-finals first leg, which ended 1-0.
Player to Watch
Riqui Puig had no games under his belt in the league before Quique Setien was appointed but seems to have formed an understanding with the new manager. Since the turn of the year and the management, the Spanish international has clocked in eight games, two of which have come in the form of starts after the league restarted last month.
Puig has been on an incredible run of form as of late and could be key against Espanyol, who play a low block. Barcelona’s crown jewel was able to dominate Atletico Madrid’s deep block continuously overcoming the press by runs from deep and line-breaking passes. Moreover, Puig is also more than capable of dictating tempo from central midfield, all while boasting a terrefic work rate.
The youngster is not afraid of going against players that are taller and stronger than him, and this was evident against Thomas Partey and Saul Niguez who could not contain the midfielder in the centre of the park, as is visible in the clip below. This craft would definitely come in handy against the likes of David Lopez. We can definitely expect to see more of him as the season continues, including the Champions League mini-tournament.
Barcelona 4-0 Espanyol
Nothing ahead of the game indicates that RCD Espanyol can get the win they need even to attempt to stay up. Instead, this game would serve as an extra motivation for Barcelona who will do their best to send their rivals en route to the second division.
Moreover, Barcelona have looked rather fresh since Setien has shifted to a 4-3-1-2. This system is also the perfect structure for Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi who seemed to click against Villarreal finally. We can expect Barca to be rather unmerciful against Espanyol, whose journey in the top flight will, in all probability, come to an end on Wednesday.