It will be a sad day tomorrow as Barça take on Espanyol in what will be Pep Guardiola’s last game at Camp Nou after four glorious years in charge of the team. Guardiola took over a team that was past its best and after skillfully offloading a couple of star names he converted a group of very talented players into a team that would work brilliantly as a solid unit.
His record of 13 titles, which could be 14 if Barça lift the Copa del Rey in three weeks’ time, is second to none. In the last two years his spectacular personal duel with Jose Mourinho has made for some fascinating press conferences, but Mourinho, despite claiming the Liga this week, will have to accept he came off second with a record in the two seasons of just two trophies to the five (possibly six) trophies won by Pep in that time.
Guardiola’s record against Espanyol demonstrates the closeness of the city derbies in recent years. Espanyol won the first league derby at Camp Nou with Guardiola in charge through two Ivan De La Peña goals. Of course tomorrow the result matters for nothing but it would be fitting if Guardiola’s final Camp Nou game were a big win over our local rivals.
Besides giving Guardiola a good send off tomorrow’s match is also important for Leo Messi who can increase his spectacular all-time scoring record which now stands at 68 goals. The pichichi award is also still not decided though Messi’s hat-trick against Malaga has taken the Argentinian to 46 compared to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 44. Whatever happens both players have had incredible seasons though I’m sure I’m not the only one who cares a lot about who finishes top scorer. Some in Madrid are trying to use their triumph in the league to stir up the absurd claim that Ronaldo is the World’s Number One, and while scoring more goals, or winning more trophies for that matter, does not necessarily mean you are the better player, it all goes to help.
For tomorrow’s game Alexis Sanchez is definitely out while Isaac Cuenca is doubtful with a bruised ankle. Xavi trained with the team but may be rested as he is still nursing problems with his soleus muscle, while Gerard Piqué trained apart and is also doubtful. Cristian Tello, Martin Montoya and Marc Bartra trained with the 15 fit first team players and will make up the squad for the game. Team selection does not matter much now but we should hope for a strong team with the idea of giving Guardiola a good send off while assisting Messi to more goals. I also hope that Ibrahim Afellay gets more minutes which I’m sure he needs to get back to his best.
Possible Barça XI: Pinto; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; Thiago, Keita, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Afellay.
My prediction: Barça 5 Espanyol 0