With just six games to play in La Liga 2014/15 Barça travel across town to Cornellà-El Prat tomorrow to face local rivals Espanyol at the newly-named Power8 stadium (Saturday 4 pm). The two-point advantage over second placed Real Madrid leaves no margin of error for Luis Enrique’s men in the final run-in and, besides the game at Atlético Madrid on May 17, tomorrow’s derby is the biggest challenge for Barça of the remaining league fixtures.
Of course Madrid face tough games at Celta, Sevilla and also at Espanyol while Valencia visit the Bernabeu squashed between Madrid’s two-legged Champions League semi-final with Juventus. Our rival should drop points, but with no guarantee of this, Luis Enrique knows his team need to take the three points tomorrow to maintain the advantage.
Espanyol are sitting comfortably in mid-table with very little left to play for. However, they are unbeaten in six games and local pride will no doubt serve as sufficient motivation, making them very dangerous opponents tomorrow. They are particularly strong at home where they taken 29 of their 42 points this season. To face Barça, coach Sergio Gonzalez will be without the injured Mattiono and the suspended ex-Barça midfielder Victor Sanchez so Juan Fuentes and Salva Sevilla come into the squad.
Besides Thomas Vermaelen, Luis Enrique has a full squad available and he could repeat the XI that beat Paris Saint Germain on Tuesday unless he notices any player suffering from wear and tear. After tomorrow’s game, Barça face Getafe at Camp Nou and then visit Cordoba before the first Champions semi with Bayern Munich, and it would seem that the relatively easier games with Getafe and Cordoba offer a better opportunity for resting players if required.
Barça have visited Cornellà-El Prat five times since Espanyol moved from the Olympic stadium on Montjuic to their new home. Barça have won three of those meetings, 1-5 in 2010/11, 0-2 in 2012/13 and 0-1 last season, but there have been two draws, 0-0 in 2009/10 and 1-1 in 2011/12, which demonstrates the potential threat to Barça’s top spot tomorrow.
Espanyol: Casilla; Arbilla, Álvaro Gonzalez, Héctor Moreno, Duarte; Lucas Vazquez, Abraham, Javi López, Víctor Álvarez; Caicedo, Sergio García.
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
My bet: correct score – Espanyol 1 Barça 2 (current odds: 9.00) The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill.
Date: Saturday 25 April 2015. Kick-off 4 pm local time.