Barcelona vs Espanyol
The Barcelona derby gets nowhere near the hype of the Madrid derby or of El Clasico, but rest assured, the people in that city will be feverish about Sunday afternoon’s Liga encounter between Barcelona and Espanyol at Camp Nou.
After losing El Clasico in late October, and then again at home to Celta Vigo the following week, Barca have not looked back, winning six games on the bounce, scoring eighteen goals and conceding just two in the process. A 5-1 home romp over fellow-title hopefuls, Sevilla was followed by a 4-0 stroll in Nicosia over APOEL, both wins highlighted by Lionel Messi hat-tricks as he celebrated the breaking of the Spanish League goalscoring record and the all-time Champions league scoring record in dramatic style in the space of three days. However, just as valuable and just as vital was Sergio Busquets’ last-minute strike at Valencia last weekend that earned his side a vital 1-0 win over another title-chasing side, and kept Barca within two points of the seemingly unstoppable Real Madrid.
Espanyol have not enjoyed the success of their illustrious neighbours this season, nor would they expect to, and indeed survival in the top flight might qualify as success for coach Sergio and his players. Three wins and five draws leaves them in twelfth place but with only a few points covering a congested bottom half of the table, they will know that they cannot afford to keep dropping points. A win against fellow strugglers Levante last weekend helped their cause, while a midweek Copa Del Rey win at Deportivo Alaves will not have harmed their confidence any.
Derby games with so much local pride at stake can sometimes get dragged into fast-paced highly-contested duels where the biggest casualty is free-flowing football. I expect Espanyol to give their all in terms of hard work, but I don’t see them having the quality nor the cutting edge to cause too many problems against a defence that has kept thirteen clean sheets in twenty outings. At the same time, I think they will defend doggedly and put plenty of men behind the ball to try to cramop the space of Messi, Neymar, Suarez and company.