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Barça start 2016 with the first of three city derbies with Espanyol in the space of just eleven days. After meeting on Saturday 2 January at 4.00pm CET in the RCDE Stadium, the two local rivals will then face each other again over two legs in the Copa del Rey, the first of which is at the Camp Nou next Wednesday.
The FC Barcelona squad trained for the final time on New Year’s Day, and the good news was that Brazilian defender Douglas is available for the first time since being injured against Villanovense. But he was not included in the eighteen announced on Saturday morning, and neither were Vermaelen or Masip, while Rafinha remains injured.
The complete squad is as follows Claudio Bravo, Marc-André Ter Stegen, Gerard Piqué, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Dani Alves, Andrés Iniesta, Luis Suárez, Leo Messi, Neymar Jr, Javier Mascherano, Marc Bartra, Munir, Jordi Alba, Sandro Ramírez, Sergi Roberto, Adriano and Jeremy Mathieu.
Espanyol, meanwhile, can welcome Senegal international Papakouli Diop back from suspension, but midfield duo Victor Sanchez and Jose Canas are both out for around a month after taking hits at Sevilla midweek.
Speaking to the press on the eve of the match, Barça manager Luis Enrique commented that his Espanyol counterpart, Constantin Gâlcă, “is achieving great things. I know him well and I like his taste for good football. You can already see that he’s made his mark at Espanyol and they’ll be a tough team to play … They have changed from under Sergio González in terms of the pressure they exert when they lose the ball. They’ve already started doing that and doing it quick.”
The Espanyol coach himself, who took over at the club last month after leading Steaua to the Romanian league and cup double, said on Friday that "this is an important game and I’m really looking forward to having a go. We know we’re playing the best team in the world, they’ve proved that … But we’re going to try to get through on their goal and create chances. If we can do that, then we’ll have a chance of winning.”
Barça rounded off an incredible 2015, in which they won five out of six major honours, with yet another emphatic win, 4-0 at home to Betis. That meant they hang on to top spot in the table, on goal difference ahead of Atlético Madrid, despite having played one game less than their rivals. Unbeaten in all competitions for three months, that win also set a new all-time record of 180 goals in a calendar year.
Espanyol have not lost at home since October 3, and have taken eight points from four games played since. It’s their away form that’s been letting them down, and the 2-0 reverse at Sevilla on Wednesday was their fifth consecutive loss on the road. They’re currently 13th in the Liga table with 20 points from 17 games.
No fixture in Spanish football has a longer history than this one. The two clubs first met in a 0-0 draw way back on 23 December 1900, although Barcelona left all of their foreigners out of the side that day to keep things fair against a team made up entirely of Spanish students (hence their name).
Barça have generally had the upper hand on their neighbours ever since, and Espanyol is in fact the team that they have beaten more than any other in La Liga (93 times). Espanyol haven’t taken three points out of a home fixture with Barça since a 3-1 win in January 2007, and they have failed to win any of their last twelve meetings (two draws and ten wins for FCB).
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