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Even though the draw for the Champions League semi-finals, which pits Barça against Bayern Munich, grabbed all the headlines, there is denying the vital importance of Saturday’s Catalan derby in the league against the blaugranes’ city rivals Espanyol which kicks off at 4.00pm CET at the Power8 Stadium. Luis Enrique’s side maintain their two point lead over nearest rivals Real Madrid thanks to last weekend’s hard fought victory over Valencia at Camp Nou. They will be looking to maintain that lead at the very least, and possibly to extend it, with a victory over ‘los pericos’ who themselves still harbour ambitions of playing in Europe next season.
Luis Enrique’s squad trained for the final time before the derby on Friday at the Ciutat Esportiva. Xavi Hernández rejoined the rest of his team mates for the session after training alone the previous day and was included in the squad of 18 announced on Saturday morning, which is as follows:Ter Stegen, Bravo, Alves, Adriano, Piqué, Bartra, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba, Sergio, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Rakitic, Rafinha, Pedro, Suárez, Messi and Neymar Jr. The players missing out are Masip, Montoya and Douglas as well as the injured Vermaelen.
Espanyol coach Sergio González and his Barça counterpart Luis Enrique maintained the Catalan derby tradition of meeting up at the venue the day before the game. The former ‘perico’ midfielder was in smiling mood, perhaps aided by the news that both Juan Fuentes and Salva Sevilla are back in an 18 man squad named for the visit of the blaugranes that also includes former Barça men Abraham, Víctor Álvarez and Paco Montañés. However, there is no place for another former blaugrana Víctor Sánchez, who is out through suspension, whilst Felipe Mattioni is missing due to injury.
The Barça boss was keen to point out that his side would not be distracted by talk of the upcoming Champions League semi-final against Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side: "There is only one game and it's the one this Saturday. It's a derby, with everything that it means for the fans. It’s a key day for us."
Sergio González admitted in his pre-game press conference that his amiable relationship with his counterpart Luis Enrique would be set aside for the day: “He knows just how much we want to do well in this game and that we are confident. I am sure he will put out the best team he can. He will bring his best 11.”
Barça have won seven of their last eight matches in the league and are coming off the back of a dominant performance in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain with the 2-0 win giving them a 5-1 victory on aggregate over Laurent Blanc’s side. Espanyol, for their part, are unbeaten in their last six matches in the league (four draws and two wins) and are currently in 10th place in the table, just four points behind Málaga who are seventh and a possible spot in next season’s UEFA Europa League. Barça’s city rivals have kept a clean sheet in five of their last seven home games and have only lost three times in the Power8 Stadium in the current league campaign, to Sevilla, Eibar and Valencia.
When the sides met in December at Camp Nou, Sergio García’s goal gave Espanyol a first half lead. However, a hat-trick from Leo Messi and goals from Piqué and Pedro handed the blaugranes a comfortable 5-1 win come the final whistle. When the sides met last season at Espanyol, it took a second half penalty from Leo Messi to separate the sides in a game that saw the home side’s keeper Kiko Casilla sent off seven minutes from time. Espanyol have never beaten Barça at their new home since moving there in the summer of 2009, recording two draws and three defeats in the blaugranes’ five league visits to their new ground.
No matter where you are in the world we have you covered. And remember, you can enjoy live commentary in English on Radio Barça. The link will appear at fcbarcelona.com just before kick-off. Twitter users can follow @FCBarcelona for a live feed of all the action.
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