Relegation confirmed RCD Espanyol will welcome league-leaders FC Barcelona in what could be a historical Catalan Derby at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat (or, RCDE) this weekend.
So far, these two great rivals have gone up 61 times against each other with Barcelona winning a lion’s share of 36 matches. The home side have only managed to get across the line in six of those meetings while 19 matches ended in a stalemate. The last three meetings between these two sides ended in a draw as well.
Espanyol are desperate to save their season and their match-up against their cross-town rivals could not come at a worse time than this. Sitting in 19th place, Espanyol only have five games to save their season and retain their La Liga status for next term but with the way things have been going for them lately, one would expect them to take the hit. The solution for Luis Garcia to get out of this muddle is simply winning the rest of their games. The catch however, for them, is the fact that they would be going against a dominant and defensively sound Barcelona outfit and an in-form Atletico Madrid side in the space of ten days. They will also have to squeeze Rayo Vallecano in the midst, who also have been highly impressive this season. So, the Parakeets have their task cut out in front of them with a very difficult set of fixtures coming up.
Espanyol are not on the back of a convincing run of results either, to make matters worse. The Barcelona outfit will be entering the clash with only a solitary win and three losses from their last five games. So, the pressure will be on them to turn around their fate but the chances of that materializing at the moment, look bleak, especially with the way this season has progressed for them.
The hosts will be without Keidi Bare, who ruptured his ankle ligament back in December last year. Garcia, however, has three players who are at risk of facing suspension for the side’s all-important next game against Rayo Vallecano. Cesar Montes, Javi Puado, and Nico Melamed will have to tread carefully in this one. Catalan derbies are known to get heated and so one should not be surprised if we see plenty of bookings in this one.
The equation for the visitors is simple: win and secure the La Liga title with four games to spare. Barcelona have absolutely bossed La Liga this time season and hold the best defensive record in the league with only 11 goals conceded. That being said, Sunday presents Xavi’s men the chance to seal the league title issue once and for all, away from home, at their bitter rivals’ home ground. While a win would seal the title in their favor, it would also seriously jeopardize Espanyol’s bid for survival.
With the news of Sergio Busquets deciding to leave Barcelona at the end of the current season breaking out, the onus will be on Barca to give him one final and decisive hurrah at Espanyol. Barca have also looked like returning to their attacking best but the form of Robert Lewandowski still remains a concern. The Polish striker has struggled for rhythm, form, and consistency post the 2022 Qatar World Cup and so he will look to enter the scoresheet once again with the race for the Pichichi heating up. Currently, the former Bayern Munich hitman is on 19 goals for the season in La Liga. He is closely being followed by Real Madrid veteran Karim Benzema, who is on 17 goals.
Xavi Hernandez finally has his entire squad at his disposal with Sergio Roberto making his return from injury. The former La Liga champions however, have Ousmane Dembele, Ferran Torres, Franck Kessie, and Alejandro running the risk of suspension. The major doubt though, will be regarding who starts on the right among Dembele and Raphinha. It is likely that the Brazilian will continue to start on the right flank having made a decent impression in his recent outings.
Joselu will be key for the hosts on Sunday. The Spaniard has netted 14 goals this term but his efforts have not been enough to keep his time above the drop zone. Having said that, he has the quality to really hurt Barcelona’s chances this weekend and help his side to an infamous but crucial victory. The 33-year-old will be tasked with going up against Ronald Araujo and that could prove to be a delightful matchup between two powerhouses.
Raphinha will be the player to watch out for the visitors. The former Leeds United winger has come in clutch for Barcelona this season but is still linked with an exit from the club due to financial issues. He has made it no secret that he wants to stay but he will have to prove that he is worthy of a spot at the Spotify Camp Nou next season and he has only five games left to do that. His first season at Barca has been nothing short of a success as he has managed to strike a G/A tally of 21, coming close to Neymar’s 24 G/A during his first season in Spain. Raphinha still has five games left to surpass his countryman’s first-season tally and so all eyes will be on him this Sunday.
Expert Opinion: While RCD Espanyol will play at home, they will start as the underdogs. Barcelona are in a far better moment than their rivals this weekend and will look to make hay while the sun shines. For them, it is an opportunity to seal the league title issue once and for all and so they will look to get the job done quickly. Having said that, they could also be crowned Champions on Saturday if Real Madrid falter against Getafe but that is a matter of ‘if’. In any case, one can expect Barca to come out and play like champions this Sunday.