El Derbi. FC Barcelona vs RCD Espanyol. Tomorrow evening, 9.30 pm local time, we make the short trip across town to take our city rivals in Cornellá. Last season, a few weeks after the historic 5-0 manita versus Real Madrid, this fixture was our final one of 2010 and the team treated us to a awesome display of football with a 5-1 victory. But that scoreline is misleading and could create some myopic thinking. Even though we won handsomely that evening, it was far more because we were at a peak than Espanyol were terrible. In fact, they should have been commended that night for coming at us and trying to win, playing some dangerous football in their attempt. That kind of a win is however an anomaly during the Pep era against Espanyol. In Guardiola’s first season, we lost 2-1 at home then won 2-1 away. The next year we narrowly won 1-0 at Camp Nou and then drew 0-0 in the return fixture. So these have been traditionally tight games, with Espanyol visibly lifting their game for their most important game of the season.
Mauricio Pochettino has done a pretty commendable job since taking over the reigns at Espanyol. In a disastrous first half to the 2008/9 season, Pochettino was hired in January 2009, the 3rd manager of the season. In his first ever managerial career, at only 36 years old, Pochettino guided them from relegation zone to a comfortable 10th place finish. The next year he again led them to a safe 11th spot. Sure, you can look at a 10th and 11th and last year’s 8th, and on conclude its pretty mediocre. But one really has to consider issues like the fall out with Tamudo, the tragic death of captain Dani Jarque, and loss of key players like Lopo, Osvaldo and Callejón during his tenure, and the fact he continues to lead his team to top half finishes, due so by playing an attractive brand of football with a high percentage of youth team players.
This year Pochettino is right on par. Sitting in 8th place, only 1 point off 6th, it’s been another positive year for Los Periquitos. With the money they earned on Osvaldo and Callejón, the club brought in talented forward Albín from Getafe, tough midfielder Romaric from Sevilla, Moreno and Zeegalaar from the Eredivisiae, old-boy Pandiani from Osasuna, and hot prospect Vlademir Weiss from Man Ciy (loan). Espanyol’s main issue this season has been scoring, with only 17 scored in 16 games, only 9 of those at home. So I think that’s where we will benefit mostly, in the fact that with the ball they are not particularly dangerous nor efficient. Their main goal threat is in one of our own, Sergio García, who despite still sporting that awful ponytail has managed 5 goals this year. They have some notable injuries in Baena (a highly rated youngster), Pandiani, and Albín, which I reckon can really hurt their chances.
Closer to home, Pep has a full squad to call upon, minus the long term injuries, with Iniesta being cleared to play this week. David Villa trained at the training center today which has been a bit boast to him and his friends. It’s nice to see him back in recuperation so soon. Guardiola won’t be underestimating tomorrow by any means. He called this game one of the hardest of the year, and based on recent history, he’s completely correct. With Espanyol struggling with attacking options, the 3-4-3 with an Alves mid/def hybrid could be in force again. Who will make up the remainder of the team is again not something I care to speculate much, but I think it will be as strong as we can put out with likely Iniesta, Messi, Xavi, and Cesc all playing.
Enjoy the game tomorrow.