Despite a strong start to the season, Espanyol have been on a downward spiral in recent weeks, registering just one win in their past six matches. While their current eighth place position does reflect favourably on the club, the pressure is on Javier Aguirre to halt this slide as soon as possible.
While that kind of form may suggest that a win or even a draw is improbable, Espanyol are (at the time of publish) the only side to win points off of Atletico Madrid. Going one step further than their Catalan counterparts at the Camp Nou, Espanyol narrowly defeated Diego Simeone's high-flying Los Colchoneros just a few weeks ago. Could they register a similar upset tomorrow, or will the Blaugrana coast to yet another derby victory?
Brazilian full-back Adriano Correia was forced off in the first half of Tuesday's 3-0 win over Celta Vigo with discomfort in his thigh, and although tests revealed that there was no damage to the muscle itself, Adriano remains doubtful for tomorrow's match. Other than that, Gerardo Martino has no new injury concerns to deal with -- and he also has the luxury of some fresh legs in his squad thanks to his rotation in midweek.
Therefore, expect a strong selection from the Blaugrana coach; Victor Valdes will be aiming to keep his tenth clean sheet of the season after his shut-out against Celta Vigo and will start in goal while both Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano are expected to return to the starting lineup. Dani Alves will keep his place at right-back and Adriano's knock is likely to open the door for young Martin Montoya, who is in line to make his third start of the campaign, albeit in a somewhat unfamiliar left-back position.
It's also anticipated that Sergio Busquets will retain his starting berth ahead of Alex Song with both Xavi and Andres Iniesta tipped to return in the two central midfield berths. Admittedly there are a number of Culés who would like to see Sergi Roberto given a chance -- but is there really any need given the success of Martino's rotation policy?
Moving onto the attack; both Lionel Messi and Neymar will start tomorrow with the in-form Alexis Sanchez favourite to join them in the Blaugrana attack. Really, there's not an awful lot to talk about selection-wise although Catalan daily, Diario Sport has a particularly newsworthy front page today. Apparently, Andoni Zubizarreta was in Germany to talk with Robert Lewandowski's representatives regarding a potential summer move. Just to give a little background to those who didn't know, Lewandowski is available on a free transfer this summer.
The idea of signing a "9" has always been discussed, but the whole Zlatan Ibrahimovic debacle has certainly discouraged Barça from trying again. In recent weeks however, Lionel Messi has been been reverting back to a free role on the right wing, while Neymar of course continues on the left. In part, this has been a tactical switch and in some respects it has also been a compromise -- an almost "Galactico" move from Martino who has simply found a way to play his three best midfielders at one time.
For the rest of this season, that will be the reasoning behind Messi's role on the wing, but what about the near future when Xavi does take up a reduced role? Cesc Fabregas drops back into the midfield and we're back with Messi at false nine -- which has arguably been something of a problem. Lewandowski is the solution in this rumour, although it does virtually ignore Alexis Sanchez -- who is finally finding his feet at the Camp Nou.
At that price, I would snap up a player of Lewa's quality in a heartbeat -- and yes, that's partly because it would be a giant "screw you" to Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich who had been in pole (ahem) position to sign the forward. I would also have reservations though -- would this formation work without a false nine? That in itself is another article all together, as a move for Lewandowski would either challenge that or place the defense under a little more pressure.
Javier Aguirre has recalled centre-half Raul Rodriguez back into the fold after the Catalan sat out Tuesday’s goalless draw with Malaga. Gabriel Torje, former Chelsea youngster Sergio Tejera and Real Madrid Canterano also make the squad, although ex-Barça winger Simao Sabrosa misses out.
RCD Espanyol 0-2 FC Barcelona -- 26th May 2013 -- La Liga
The Blaugrana returned to the Camp Nou with all three points after a relatively straightforward derby win, as goals from Alexis Sanchez and Pedro secured the win for Tito Vilanova's title-winning side.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Montoya; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Neymar
Espanyol (4-2-3-1): Casilla; Lopez, Colotto, Moreno, Fuentes; D. Lopez, Sánchez; Garcia, Thievy, Pizzi; Stuani
Barcelona are in form, at the Camp Nou, against Espanyol. It's a comfortable win waiting to happen -- an optimistic Manita (5-0) prediction from me.