- Copy link
The festive break is over and FC Barcelona return to action on Saturday (RCDE Stadium, 9.00pm CET) with a local derby to start the year against RCD Espanyol. The city rivals could not be further apart going into the game. The blaugrana are two points clear at the top of the table, while the parakeets are rooted to the bottom and have brought in Abelardo Fernández in the hope that the former Barça defender can manage the team to recovery.
Following the game, Barça will be heading for Saudi Arabia to play in the first edition of the new-look Spanish Super Cup, featuring four teams.
Victory would also earn Barça the honorary title of ‘winter champions’, i.e. the leading club at the halfway stage of the Liga season.
Marc Andre ter Stegen has been confirmed as unavailable with a tendon injury, and is likely to miss the trip to Saudi Arabia too, meaning this is the moment for Neto to step in and shine as he did against Inter.
Arthur and Ousmane Dembélé continue side-lined too, and Carles Aleñá has gone on loan to Betis, while Ernesto Valverde insists that the late return from vacation of the South American trio of Leo Messi, Luis Suárez and Arturo Vidal is no reason to condition their playing time.
There was good news on Friday with the return of Ansu Fati from injury, and the teenager has been included in the list of 18 players.
- Espanyol are an all-time low of having failed to win 20 league derbies in a row, and didn’t even score in 15 of those meetings. Avoid defeat, and Barça will be on their longest unbeaten run against any team in La Liga.
- Barça have more league wins against Espanyol (99) than any other team. Victory on Saturday, and Barça will have completed their first century against a single club.
- Lionel Messi is the all-time record goalscorer in the Derbi Barcelonés with 22 goals. Of the current players, Luis Suárez is next with eight, while David López is the only current Espanyol to have netted in a derby.
- With just 8.7% of their shots going in, Espanyol have the poorest conversion rate in la Liga. Barça lead the way with an impressive 28.5% of attempts finding the net.
- Abelardo has faced his former club as manager six times in the past (with Sporting Gijón and Alavés) and has lost every game.
- Espanyol have leaked 34 goals this season, but note that only one of those came from outside the area. They haven’t conceded a direct free kick for 27 games. Shots from long range may not be the best option.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
30/3/19 (LIGA) Barça 2 (Messi 2) Espanyol 0
8/12/18 (LIGA) Espanyol 0 Barça 4 (Messi 2, Dembélé, Suárez)
4/2/18 (LIGA) Espanyol 1 Barça 1 (Piqué)
25/1/18 (COPA) Barça 2 (Suárez, Messi) Espanyol 0
17/1/18 (COPA) Espanyol 1 Barça 0
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Barça manager Ernesto Valverde: “We’re not only looking at what Espanyol have been doing recently but also what Abelardo did when Alavés played us. They’re in a difficult situation, but this is a derby and the points difference matters little. These games are played with the heart … Of course I would like Espanyol to stay in the first division, without a shadow of a doubt. I don’t know if they will. They’re going to need a lot of points, but they aren’t too far out of it yet.”
Espanyol midfielder Dani López, on the last time Barça and Espanyol met while at opposite ends of the table, in 2009, when against all expectation, the blue and whites won at the Camp Nou: “They are similar circumstances to now and there are members of the staff who remember it. We’re confidence we can do it again. We are at home, and must defend our history, and the pride of our fans, who are suffering. If we can win, much of our pain will be forgotten.”
Espanyol coach Abelardo on divided loyalties: “Since the day they called me, I have been Espanyol’s number one fan … It’s been a fantastic first week, and I’m sure we’ll play very well tomorrow.”
Second placed Real Madrid won 3-0 at sixth placed Getafe earlier in the day to, at least temporarily, go to the top of the table.
Sevilla, third, were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Athletic Club on Friday night, and fourth placed Atlético Madrid entertain Levante on Saturday at 6.30pm CET.
- Copy link