After enjoying almost two weeks off to rest, recover and train in sunny Catalonia, Barcelona play the biggest game of their season when they make the short trip to Cornellà to meet crosstown rivals Espanyol in a massive La Liga derby.
Barça come into this one with a very simple task: win, and they’ll mathematically clinch their first La Liga title in four years, against their local rivals in their stadium. There is a scenario where Barça would already kick off the match as champions if both Madrid teams fail to win their games before the Catalan Derby, but a victory by either Real or Atlético will put the pressure on Barça to the job themselves and get all three points to officially end the title race.
Espanyol are in the thick of the relegation scrap and badly need a result on Sunday, and they have the added incentive of stopping their biggest rivals from winning the title in their home which makes this a fascinating contest. Here’s how we think Xavi Hernández will line up his troops for Sunday’s battle.
The 12-day interval between Barça’s last game and the derby was crucial to fully recover a team that was on its last legs after a very busy stretch post-international break, but with the squad fully healthy (other than Sergi Roberto) and completely rested for this one, there is very little doubt about which 11 players will take the pitch on Sunday.
It’s time to reunite the Gala XI, with the BACK quartet of Jules Kounde, Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen and Alejandro Balde protecting Marc-André ter Stegen’s goal and looking to keep another clean sheet and provide the platform for the six players in front of them to score enough goals to clinch the championship.
Sergio Busquets will play his final Barcelona Derby and the captain would love nothing more than to get three points and get to lift the trophy at home against Real Sociedad next week, as per La Liga policy Barça cannot officially celebrate their title on the road.
To help him dominate midfield, Busquets will have his three usual partners in crime as Frenkie De Jong, Pedri and Gavi are healthy, rested and ready for war. The midfield battle figures to be crucial on Sunday, and these are the best men for the job.
Xavi has yet to reunite the Gala XI since Ousmane Dembélé’s return from injury, choosing to carefully manage the Frenchman’s minutes and wait until the right moment to give him his first start in almost four months.
But with the 12-day break and a full week of training, there is no better time than this to bring Dembélé back into the fold. Raphinha tried his best to fulfill his spot and had an overall solid time as the starter, but this is Dembélé’s position and he’s ready to unleash hell on Espanyol.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Balde; Pedri, Busquets, De Jong; Dembélé, Lewandowski, Gavi (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Espanyol? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!