It’s derby weekend! FC Barcelona return to the Camp Nou tomorrow where they will host city rivals RCD Espanyol in the first Catalan derby of the season, as the Blaugrana look for their seventh successive win in all competitions and another victory over their Catalan counterparts. At the time of writing, La Liga leaders Real Madrid were yet to kick-off against Celta Vigo, yet there was a sense that – at the Santiago Bernabeu and with Celta on something of a slide since their shock win against us – the three points were all but in the bag for Los Blancos.
As such, it’s safe to assume that Barça will again be playing catch-up and the pressure will be on not to drop any more points at home in order to keep pace with a Madrid outfit that are threatening to runaway to an unassailable lead up top. Thankfully, Barcelona’s home form has been pretty exceptional this season and Espanyol rarely relish a trip across town to the Camp Nou. And with a whole host of key players rested in midweek, Barça should be in peak condition for this clash.
However, there’s still the small matter of a group-clinching UEFA Champions League decider against Paris Saint-Germain to contend with this week and that’s something that may, or may not, play on Luis Enrique’s mind as he ponders his selection. Will Luis Suarez mark his Catalan derby debut with his first La Liga goal? There are so many storylines to consider, and in 24 hours we should have pur answers.
Can FC Barcelona cruise to a seventh successive victory in all competitions, or will Espanyol pull off an upset and hold the illustrious Blaugrana to a draw, or even defeat them in their own backyard?
Andrés Iniesta is back. Luis Suarez isn’t banned anymore. Lionel Messi and Neymar are rested; in fact, almost everyone is fit and firing at the moment, with just the one exception: Thomas Vermaelen. If we exclude the Belgian centre-half, Barça have a full complement of players at their disposal and arguably one of the deepest squads in world football. Just look at the form of Marc-André ter Stegen: in his few appearances this season, the German has been in tremendous form, yet remains a "bench player" behind Claudio Bravo.
In midfield, it’s not rocket science – at least one of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and Ivan Rakitić have to start on the bench. In defense, that could easily be Javier Mascherano, Jeremy Mathieu or Marc Bartra; our strength in depth is phenomenal, and in a long, difficult La Liga season, that could prove vital, especially if (when?) our main rivals Real Madrid begin to tire or suffer a few injuries as we have in previous months.
Getting back to the team for tomorrow’s match; again, at time of publish Luis Enrique hasn’t disclosed this information to the media, so there’s going to be an element of guesswork involved. Or, there probably isn’t – the team almost picks itself this week.
In goal, Claudio Bravo will start, temporarily reclaiming his place in goal from Marc-André ter Stegen before the German "wins" it back on Wednesday evening. Ahead of Bravo, we can expect to see Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, while their starts in midweek all but rule out Marc Bartra and Jeremy Mathieu, leading us to believe that Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano will be partnered together in the heart of defense.
At pivote, Sergio Busquets will return ahead of Sergi Samper, with Xavi and Andrés Iniesta likely to combine in the two advanced midfield roles. The only question is whether Ivan Rakitić can displace Andrés Iniesta, who has just returned from injury, but in a match of this stature, I expect to see Iniesta thrown in from the get-go.
And of course in attack, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez will rekindle their partnership after sitting out the midweek win over SD Huesca. Despite their reputation, the triumvirate probably haven’t lived up to expectations just yet, but there’s still time for them to come good – what better time than the present?
Halting a five game winless streak with a victory last weekend against Levante UD, Espanyol strung together successive wins for the first time in ten months with a 2-0 success against Alaves in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday. Spoiler: Espanyol haven’t won three on the bounce in 22 months, so we shouldn’t expect a defeat this time tomorrow. For a more detailed look at Espanyol’s key players, tactics and recent form, be sure to check out our exclusive scouting report.
FC Barcelona (P) 0-0 RCD Espanyol – 21st May 2014 – Copa Catalunya
The Blaugrana played out a relatively lifeless match with their city rivals in this Copa Catalunya final before a dramatic penalty shoot-out win secured the title for Barça.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Suarez, Messi, Neymar
Espanyol (4-2-3-1): Casilla; Arbilla, Colotto, Bertrand, Fuentes; Sánchez, Canas; Vasquez, Garcia, Salva; Caicedo
A Manita for me.
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