Barcelona v Espanyol: The Catalan Derby Match PreviewBy: Isabella | January 7th, 2012
Tomorrow evening Barca will be strolling across town to the rather formidable El Prat to face those most overlooked of neighbours, Espanyol. That note of pity always seems rather inescapable when pundits or fans mention this ‘other team of Barcelona’. Whilst it’s true that Espanyol have had rather a tough burden to bear by living in the vast shadow of the Camp Nou (where Barca have now notched up an astounding 1000 wins, as of last match), my sympathy is rather lacking. You see, Espanyol have simply not tried hard enough to strike out on their own. Take Atletico Madrid. All too aware of the Bernebeu and the slightly above average team it houses, Atleti made the logical decision to gain attention by becoming the most inconsistent, wildly unpredictable, always just inches from total collapse and chaos team that it could. It succeeded, to the point where one always feels that a match of their could either end 10-0 (to the opposing side) 10-0 to Atleti, or be forced to end early due to some kind of inexplicable explosion. Such distinguishing excitement is exactly what Espanyol is currently lacking. So, along with the obligatory preview, I’ll be offering a couple of tips on how the city’s ‘other team’ can become the city’s ‘equally famous team due to a variety of crazy and non-sporting reasons.
Derby matches are always fun. The insult hurling, the shirt pulling, the unprovoked fouls and the general air of hatred. Good times. Barcelona v Espanyol is always a decent game to watch, if only to see the looks of utter, utter, determination on every single face of the Espanyol players. It’s bad enough if your city rival is a bit better than you. It’s substantially worse if that team is generally acknowledged to be the best team on the planet. So almost every season in recent times, despite the stats always seeming to predict an absolute thrashing, Espanyol dig deep and somehow keep Barca’s victories narrow. The last game the two played ended 2-0, a scoreline any team playing Barcelona would probably take quite happily. This time round, Espanyol are currently sitting 8th in the league, three places behind Osasuna, who – as we all watched just days ago, got beaten 4-0.
However, determination can only take a team so far. Pochettino’s squad is looking worryingly ragged, with Pandiani, Albin, Lopez and Baena all injury stricken. As if to rub salt in such untimely wounds, this morning Barcelona released the good (for us!) news that Valdes and Iniesta are fit and available to play tomorrow’s derby. Our only two injuries at the moment are the long term absences of Afellay and David Villa, which is rather minimal on the injury side, when compared to earlier points this season, when it seemed there was a bet in the dressing room as to who could tear their hamstring the quickest.
Guardiola’s squad selection then, although somewhat more limited upfront (due to Villa’s injury and Pedro’s ongoing lack of form) presents a number of options. Valdes is most likely to return to the goal, or at the very least play one half. Our favourite CB pairing, Puyique, is likely to start once more, alongside the medical miracle that is Dani Alves, with his three lungs. I’d personally like to see Mascherano start once more: he very quickly became one of my favourite players, and his work rate, skill, and confidence has gone from strength to strength in these last two seasons. If he does play, I’d imagine that would push the defence into more of a back three, with Alves pushing up, much like we saw in the game against Osasuna. A midfield trio of Xavi, Busi and a returning Iniesta would be my bet, leaving the three forward spots to Messi, Cesc and Cuenca/Alexis, though my money’s on Cuenca. With Espanyol likely to defend both very hard and deep, I think Cuenca’s versatility in finding those gaps and passes would work best. So, I think we might well see a line up of:
Pique Masch Puyol
Alves Xavi Busi Iniesta
Cesc Messi Cuenca
I don’t expect the scoreline to be something jaw dropping: as previously stated, these Catalan derbies have tended, at least in recent times, to be rather tightly fought affairs. Although, that said, the number of injuries Espanyol will have to deal with, alongside Barca’s lack of, might well play its part. If Barcelona do end up winning by a large margin, it’ll make Espanyol’s need to gain some notoriety even more pressing. And so, as promised, here are my tips on how Pochettino can turn his team around, and put Barcelona (a tiny bit) in the shade.
Become the best team in the world. On second thoughts, this suggestion might prove easier said than done.
2). Pull a Levante, and start wearing eerily similar kits. Chances are some obscure Asian nation will mistake Espanyol for Barcelona, and book them for a winter tour or something. As long as they include a short guy with a floppy brown hair and painfully bright boots, they’ll never know the difference.
3). Buy Lionel Messi. No funds? Steal him.
4). Force their goalkeeper to learn the scorpion kick. Guaranteed youtube views!
5). Start doing the haka before every game
6). Spread rumours that there’s a massive UEFA conspiracy keeping them out of the Champions League, and that Mourinho, the Red Cross and Sepp Blatter all have something to do with it.
You’re welcome, Pochettino.
As ever, join us 15 minutes before kick off on our much loved, Unicef sponsored LiveBlog!