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The local derby between Barça and Espanyol is a grand occasion at any time of year. But when it is the second-to-last fixture of the Liga season, with the home side top of the table but aware that Atlético Madrid or Real Madrid are poised to take their place if they don’t win this one, and with the visitors still needing a point to ensure they stay in the first division – well, the game on Sunday at 5.00pm CET is not just big. It’s huge…
Sandro Ramirez and Thomas Vermaelen are still injured, and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo hurt his calf against Betis last week. But there was good news on Saturday with the announcement that Jeremy Mathieu is back to full fitness and is back in the 18-man squad that Luis Enrique confirmed on Sunday. Meanwhile, Marc Bartra, Adriano and Douglas failed to make the cut.
With centre-backs Álvaro González and Óscar Duarte both suspended, Espanyol have drafted in the services of the youth’s team’s promising youngster Lluís López to bolster their defence. Right-back Anaitz Arbilla and central midfielder Abraham González are both injured.
Speaking to the media the day before the game, Barça manager Luis Enrique commented that “the challenge is very attractive. We are playing our last game at the Camp Nou in what I hope will be a great atmosphere. Barça fans understand the difficulty of the match and the challenge that lies ahead … It does not bother me if the derby is intense, as long as my team focuses on the game.”
Meanwhile, his counterpart Constantín Galca said on Saturday that “we’re playing Barça and we still need a point. We have to get involved in the game. It’s a derby and they’ll do all they can to win it … For us, we just have to focus on ourselves. It’s not a case of spoiling anyone’s plans. We are only concerned about our own game.”
Barça have put their slump in form well behind them, scoring sixteen goals and conceding none in three consecutive wins to stay top of the table. But the Madrid clubs have been winning their games too, and can both still win the title if Barça don’t get six points from their last two fixtures. All Sunday’s games are being played at the same time, with Atlético away to Levante and Real Madrid at home to Valencia.
A run of five consecutive games without a win meant that Espanyol, who had looked reasonably safe in mid-table, had started to hover dangerously close to the relegation zone. A 1-0 win last week against Sevilla has done wonders for their cause, but the ‘parakeets’ still need one more point before they can relax in the knowledge that their top flight place has been saved.
First played on 23 December 1900, the ‘derbi barcelonés’ is the oldest surviving fixture in Spanish football. Both teams were founder members of La Liga in 1928 and have met in 81 editions since then, with Barça only losing the home fixture nine times. Espanyol’s last win at the Camp Nou was in 2009 (their first for 27 years). Barça have won every home meeting since then, conceding just one goal in six matches.
This is the fourth time the teams have met in in 2016. The Liga game at Cornellà-El Prat ended 0-0, while Barça comfortably progressed 6-1 on aggregate in the Copa del Rey.
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