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Following the international break, La Liga is back at Camp Nou for what promises to be a very special match indeed. The return of the Xavi Hernández from Qatar to take charge of the first team has generated a huge wave of optimism at FC Barcelona.
After a disappointing start to the league season, there is strong faith that one of the finest players ever to wear the blaugrana jersey is the perfect person to get the team back to winning ways.
And to add to the occasion, the Saturday kick-off at 9.00pm CET marks the return of the Barcelona Derby. After a season in the second division, Espanyol are back in the top flight. For the ‘parakeets’, the chance to get one up on their local rivals is always one of the highlights of the season. They haven’t beaten Barça in La Liga in any of their last 22 attempts, but there is nothing they would like more than to spoil Xavi’s homecoming party.
How it stands
With just four wins from the first 13 games, Barça are in a troubling ninth place in the table. Xavi is taking over a team that has failed to win any of its last four fixtures, with defeats to Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano followed by draws with Alavés and Celta, shockingly surrendering a 3-0 lead in the latter.
That means that the two local rivals go into this game matched on the same 17 points, although Espanyol (unbeaten in their last six games) have played one game more.
Barça are 11 points adrift of league leaders Real Sociedad, and six points shy of the Champions League places. Xavi has quite a job on his hands, but if anybody is the man to do it, it’s him…
Last five games
Nov 6 (LIGA) Celta 3-3 Barça
Nov 2 (UCL) Dynamo Kyiv 0-1 Barça
Oct 28 (LIGA) Rayo Vallecano 1-0 Barça
Oct 25 (LIGA) Barça 1-2 Real Madrid
Oct 20 (UCL) Barça 1-0 Dynamo Kyiv 0
Nov 6 (LIGA) Espanyol 2-0 Granada
Oct 31 (LIGA) Getafe 2-1 Espanyol
Oct 26 (LIGA) Espanyol 1-1 Athletic Club
Oct 23 (LIGA) Elche 2-2 Espanyol
Oct 18 (LIGA) Espanyol 2-0 Cadiz
Xavi is taking over a team that continues to have far more than its fair share of injuries to contend with. However, there was good news on Saturday morning, with Gerard Piqué, Sergi Roberto, Eric Garcia and Nico González all being declared back to full fitness.
Sergiño Dest, Ousmane Dembéle, Ansu Fati, Martin Braithwaite, Pedri and Kun Agüero are all still unavailable.
Despite all the excitement over Dani Alves’ return to the club this week, the Brazilian right-back will not be eligible until the winter transfer window opens in January.
Xavi's first selection includes five players that are not officially part of the senior squad: Gavi, Nico González, Abde Ezzalzouli, Alejandro Balde and Ilias Akhomach.
Friday brought the traditional pregame meeting between the rival managers, Xavi and Vicente Moreno, who are both coaching in a derby for the first time ever.
Curiously, Xavi is marking his debut in the exact same fashion as Johan Cruyff did in 1988. Barça beat Espanyol 2-0 that day. Xavi is also the man who has played in the most editions of this fixture, 26 games in total.
Did you know?
The last time Espanyol won at Camp Nou was in 2009. Xavi was in the team that day, as were Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets.
Since that day, Barça are unbeaten in 22 league games against their local rivals, the longest such streak in the fixture’s history. Espanyol have failed to score in 16 of those games.
Espanyol’s dangerman Raúl de Tomás, who made his Spain debut this week, has scored in five consecutive games and is currently the third highest goalscorer in La Liga.
All-time, Barça are 172-38-34 against Espanyol in the league, making this the most traditionally imbalanced of the major city derbies in La Liga.
This is the first time since 1996 that Barça do not have more points than Espanyol going into a derby (discounting the 2008/09 season when the game happened too early in the competition for the stat to make much sense). A quarter of a century ago, Barça were three points behind the blue-and-whites before beating them 2-1 at Camp Nou.
Last five derbies
08/07/20 (LIGA) Barça 1-0 Espanyol
04/01/20 (LIGA) Espanyol 2-2 Barça
30/03/19 (LIGA) Barça 2-0 Espanyol
08/12/18 (LIGA) Espanyol 0-4 Barça
04/02/18 (LIGA) Espanyol 1-1 Barça
“We need to control our moods because this is a derby we can’t afford to lose. There will be tension, but I have faith in my players.”
"I haven't decided on the team. I’ll watch the training session this evening. But there might be some surprises”
“We will have to use youngsters to cover for the injuries, but they are ready. Gavi is an especially good wildcard. He’s versatile and can play in many positions. He's very young, but he's made a difference in big games.”
"I’m very calm about tomorrow’s game. Positive, happy and excited to be at the place I consider my home. I’m less nervous than when I was a player. Footballers have to do things on the pitch."
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