Espanyol v Barcelona, La Liga, April 17, 2010
“It’s a real final, a key game at the end of the season and a terribly tough match. With (Espanyol coach Mauricio) Pochettino now in charge, it will be the toughest match we have had.” â€“ Pep Guardiola.
With some of Europeâ€™s best and biggest teams failing to halt Barcelona in the last few weeks, it may be down to Espanyol to cut down their great local rivals. They may be separated by 46 points in La Liga but Espanyol can take some heart from recent games against Barca to give them hope of an upset against Messi, Xavi, Puyol and co. (Barcelona are 1.12 to win the league, Real Madrid are 5.50.)
In nine league and cup meetings against Espanyol since 2007, Barca have won only three while losing twice and drawing the other four. And they were the only team to win at the Nou Camp in the league last season when Barcelona had anything to play for.
And when they do emerge victorious against Espanyol, Barcelona often ride their luck. In December Zlatan Ibrahimovic converted a dubious penalty to secure a 1-0 victory. Whilst Guardiolaâ€™s side also needed a late penalty to win this corresponding fixture in 2008/2009.
Espanyolâ€™s form of late has been patchy but in recent weeks they have beaten Sevilla and Atletico Madrid at home. Undoubtedly their main threat will come from Daniel Osvaldo after the Italian striker has claimed six goals in 14 appearances since his loan move from Bologna.
The home side will be without regular number one Carlos Kameni who was sent off in Wednesdayâ€™s 3-1 defeat to Racing Santander. It will be left up to Cristian Alvarez to keep out the fearsome Barcelona attack.
The Perequitos are eight points clear of the relegation zone and will be aiming to trip up their great local rivals. Besides Osvaldo, Jose Callejon and Joan Verdu have shown real quality this season but Espanyol are not the same side of recent years with Ivan De La Pena out injured and Raul Tamudo not getting much of a look in. Incidentally, both of these veterans have downed Barcelona almost single handedly in recent history.
In truth though, Barcelona have looked unstoppable in recent matches. Lionel Messiâ€™s individual demolition of Arsenal was followed up by a Clasico win that although it didnâ€™t match the excesses of last season, was comfortable. The Catalan giants have now secured 28 points from a possible 30 in the league and there seems to be a new player hitting form all the time.
First it was Messi, then Xavi excelled with his double assist against Real Madrid and on Wednesday night it was the turn of Pedro to light up the Nou Camp with one of the goals of the season in the 3-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna.
Barcelona will be without Eric Abidal and Andres Iniesta but Zlatan Ibrahimovic is expected to be on the bench. Guardiola may also choose to rest players with the Champions League semi-final first leg at Inter Milan coming up on Tuesday.
101gg predicts: Espanyol 0 â€“ Barcelona 2