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Saturday is derby day (RCDE Stadium, 9.00pm CET), and here’s a closer look at Barça’s first opponents of 2020: local rivals RCD Espanyol.
Hans Gamper sparked a football craze in the city when he founded FC Barcelona in 1899, and within a year a number of other teams had started playing the game too. Originally set up by university students, the ‘Spanish Football Society’ is the only one that has survived to the present day.
The ‘big two’ of the old Catalan Championship, and who share the oldest rivalry in Spanish football, were founder members of La Liga in 1929. Having only missed out on five seasons since, Espanyol is the club that has appeared in the most editions without ever winning the title.
For most of their history, Espanyol played at the Estadi de Sarrià, just down the road from the Camp Nou. The site was sold in 1997 and they spent a decade at the Olympic Stadium, Montjuic before moving to their new home, the ultra-modern 40,500 capacity RCDE Stadium on the outskirts of metropolitan Barcelona.
Although Espanyol are known as the ‘budgerigars’ or ‘parakeets’, the nickname originally referred to Felix, the famous cartoon cat!
The origin is the Catalan expression ‘4 gats’ (4 cats), which refers to a small, insignificant number of people. In the 1920s, satirical magazine Xut! started using images of four Felix the Cats to condescendingly depict the declining influence of Espanyol.
Because of his high-pitched voice, Felix was known to Catalan children as the ‘budgie cat’. And so Espanyol became known as the ‘budgies’, even though the origin of the name was actually a cat, and not a bird!
HEAD TO HEAD
FC Barcelona traditionally have the upper hand in the Derbi Barcelones, and although Espanyol did win the home leg of the Copa del Rey quarter final two seasons ago, they have not won a league derby since a 2-1 victory at Camp Nou in 2009 and never at their new stadium.
That puts Barça on the longest unbeaten run in league derby history, 30 games, scoring 52 goals in the process and conceding just five.
The meeting at the RCDE Stadium last season ended 4-0 to Barça with a brace from Leo Messi and a goal apiece for Ousmane Dembélé and Luis Suárez.
Espanyol have been having a rotten league season. They have only won two games (against Eibar and Levante), and have only managed two draws from their last eight fixtures. Their home form has been particularly, with seven defeats and not one victory in front of their home fans.
This contrasts with their fine form on what is their first European adventure for over a decade. They successfully navigated three qualification rounds and then finished top of group also featuring Ludogorets Razgad, Ferencvàros and CSKA Moscow to earn a tie with Wolverhampton Wanderers in February.
Most capped international: Winger Wu Lei has played 67 games for China, and was also the youngest ever player to appear in that country’s professional league (he was just 14) and the second highest goalscorer in Chinese Super League history before joining Espanyol in 2019.
Barça connections: Víctor Sánchez played eight games in Pep Guardiola’s treble winning side of 2008/09, but was then farmed out on loan, eventually winding up at Espanyol in 2012, where he is now a club stalwart and vice-captain.
Top scorer 2019/20 (all competitions): Argentinian Facundo Ferreyra has scored seven goals in the Europa League. Best known from his time at Shakhtar Donetsk, he is currently on loan from Benfica. In La Liga he has only scored once, but no Espanyol has registered more than two all campaign.
Following the dismissal of Pablo Machín, Abelardo Fernández has become the third Espanyol manager of the season. This is his first game in charge, and the hope is that he can repeat his exploits with Alavés, who were bottom of the table when he took charge in 2017 and eventually finished mid-table. Older Barça fans will know him well. He was a centre back here from 1994–2002, making 178 appearances.
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