Barça play the fifth game in 14 days with the visit of Espanyol for the local derby at Camp Nou tomorrow night (Friday 9 pm). The packed fixture list gives little time for rest and preparation but by playing on the uncommon day of Friday, taking advantage that November 1 is a national holiday in Spain, Barça will have an extra day to get in shape for the important Champions League match with AC Milan next Wednesday.
Barça had a light training session yesterday to recover from the game at Celta and will have just one more training session today (Thursday 6 pm) to prepare for Espanyol. Adriano Correia came off with a hamstring strain in the first half at Celta but as there is no muscular damage and he has been classed as ‘doubtful’ for tomorrow’s game but should be back soon.
Tata Martino has everybody else available except for Jordi Alba and Afellay and it seems probable that Piqué, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta and Neymar will all return to the starting XI. It would seem foolish to rush Adriano back even if he has no injury so Martin Montoya could get another chance though Martino also has the option of playing Carles Puyol at left back. In midfield Sergio Busquets is due a rest so we may see Alex Song get another game but this time as the defensive midfield pivot.
One of the most positive features of Martino’s Barça is the healthy competition for the creative and attacking positions with seven outstanding players in Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro, Alexis, Messi and Neymar fighting for five places in the team. Messi may have his place assured for all the biggest games but none of the others can now be 100% sure of the same guarantee.
Messi seems to be playing himself back into shape so despite having completed the last three games he looks likely to start again tomorrow. However, we may finally be losing the so-called Messi-dependency as the idea of resting the Argentinian doesn’t seem so bad when we can play a front three of Alexis-Neymar-Pedro or Alexis-Fabregas-Neymar. Personally, I prefer Fabregas in midfield. In his present form he is difficult to leave out which puts some positive pressure on Xavi and Iniesta to perform to their best.
The statistics say that Espanyol have won only once in the last 31 years at Camp Nou. However, there are some pretty recent bad memories for Barça in these games. Who could forget Raul Tamudo’s last minute equalizer which cost Barça the league in May 2007? Then the following season, in Frank Rijkarrd’s last local derby, Espanyol keeper Carlos Kameni stopped everything in a 0-0 draw. Espanyol’s one victory came in February 2009 when Ivan de La Peña scored twice in a 1-2 win though Barça went on to win the triplete in Pep Guardiola’s first season.
Espanyol haven’t scored at Camp Nou since the De La Peña brace and the last four Barça-Espanyol games have all ended in a home victory. The last two seasons have both ended in a 4-0 win to Barça with Leo Messi scoring all four in Guardiola’s last Camp Nou game to reach fifty goals at the end of the 2011/12, then at the start of January 2013 Xavi, Pedro (2) and Messi scored the game’s four goals in a splendid opening half hour. A repeat of that scoreline would do very nicely for Barça tomorrow but we should remember that Los Periquitos are the only team this season to have beaten our closest rivals Atlético Madrid. However, the 1-0 win over Atléti is Espanyol’s only win in the last six games which after a good start to the season has seen them slip to 8th place. Their last three away games at Villarreal, Elche and Levante have all ended in defeat, and they are going to need something extra tomorrow to stop Barça. Espanyol coach Javier Aguirre has doubts over Stuani, Sidnei and Javi Lopez and will wait to see their conditions in this afternoon’s training session at Cornellà-El Prat before naming his squad for the game.
Finally, since it’s been in the news all week, I’d just like to add my tuppence worth to the Blatter-Cristiano Ronaldo controversy by saying that Joseph Blatter isn’t fit to clean Cristiano Ronaldo’s boots, let alone run FIFA. What a clown!
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Montoya; Xavi, Song, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Neymar.
Espanyol: Casilla; Mattioni, Colotto, Hector Moreno, Fuentes; David Lopez, Victor Sanchez; Lanzarote, Pizzi, Simao; Sergio Garcia..
Prediction: Barça 3 Espanyol 0
Date: Friday 1 November 2013. Kick off 9 pm local time.