FC Barcelona (2nd, 37pts) vs RCD Espanyol (17th, 12pts)*
*Points and positions at the time of writing on Friday
Competition/Round: 2022-23 La Liga, Matchday 15
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: None
Espanyol Outs & Doubts: Adrià Pedrosa, Keidi Bare, Rubén Sánchez, Gori, Dani Gómez (out)
Date/Time: Saturday, December 31, 2022, 2pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 1pm GMT (UK), 8am ET, 5am PT (USA), 6.30pm IST (India)
Venue: Spotify Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz
VAR: Santiago Jaime Latre
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), TSN 5 (Canada), Viaplay Sports 2 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), Sports18 (India), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following a seven-week break for the World Cup, Barcelona football is finally back to end 2022 with a bang as the Catalan giants welcome their crosstown rivals Espanyol for the latest edition of the Barcelona Derby at the Greatest Stadium on Earth.
It felt like this day would never come, but we can once again watch Barça play football. The last time we saw them in action, they were down to 10 men and found a way to beat Osasuna on the road to go into the break at the top of the La Liga table in dramatic fashion.
A midseason World Cup has never happened before and the last few days of action around Europe has proven that teams will take a while to settle into their pre-tournament form, so expecting Barça to play at their very best right away is unrealistic. They are also notoriously bad in the first game after an international break, but they’ve never had a seven-week international break before.
These are strange circumstances, and on top of everything there is a Catalan Derby to play. And when it comes to these games, the form goes out the window and Espanyol always bring their nasty, physical best to muck up the game, slow down the pace and frustrate Barça to the maximum.
The fact Espanyol are in the thick of the relegation fight and on a five-game winless streak is irrelevant. They will make it really tough for Barça, and Xavi Hernández will need to come up with a strong gameplan to break down a stubborn Espanyol defense and find enough goals to win even if they’re not playing at their best, which is likely considering these unusual circumstances.
But the good news is that Robert Lewandowski’s ban has been lifted at least for this one, so having the world’s best goalscorer is an easy way to overcome a poor performance. The whole team will have to play well, but the Pole will be asked to be the difference between these two if the game is close. And given how hard the club worked to have him on the pitch, he has to deliver.
This won’t be easy. Forget the table. It’s a Derby. And three big points are on the line to stay ahead of Real Madrid.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Balde, Kounde, Christensen, Alba; De Jong, Busquets, Pedri; Dembélé, Lewandowski, Fati
Espanyol (4-2-3-1): Lecomte; Gil, Calero, Cabrera, Oliván; Expósito, Souza; Puado, Darder, Braithwaite; Joselu
Barça are almost inexplicably bad coming off an international break, but the availability of Lewandowski is a big boost. I expect a tough, physical battle that might be tough to watch at times, but the home team will find a way to win the derby: 3-1 to the good guys.