Luis Enrique has urged his players to keep improving as Barcelona prepare to take on local rivals Espanyol in their first game of 2016.
The Catalan giants ended a stunning 2015 on a high by beating Real Betis 4-0 on Wednesday to cement their place at the top of La Liga and cap a year in which they won five major trophies out of a possible six.
Their head coach is not getting carried away, though, and wants to do even better in the year ahead.
“I don’t dwell on memories and 2015 is in the past,” Luis Enrique told the Barcelona website.
“Now I’m interested in 2016 and being the best again. That’s what professionals do.
“Everyone can get better. The players, the coaches, and all the people that form part of this club.
“There is very little difference between Europe’s big clubs and we have to keep working hard.”
As ever, much of the focus for Saturday’s encounter will be on Lionel Messi, who made his 500th appearance in all competitions for Barca against Betis, marking the occasion with his 425th goal.
The Argentina superstar made his debut for Barcelona at Espanyol on October 16, 2004 at the tender age of 17 years and 114 days, the youngest player at the time to make his bow for the club.
He has since gone on to become the all-time top scorer in the Catalonian derby in La Liga with 13 strikes and has scored six of the last 12 Barca goals against Espanyol in the league.
Espanyol, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back from their 2-0 defeat at the hands of Sevilla in midweek, but their recent history versus Barca gives them little reason for optimism.
They have not beaten their neighbours in their last 12 La Liga games – drawing two and losing the remaining 10 – and Barca have not beaten any team more often than Espanyol in La Liga history (93).
The last time Espanyol won against their city rivals at home in La Liga was in January 2007, when they recorded a 3-1 victory, but Constantin Galca’s men will be drawing confidence from their recent home form.
They have not lost at the Power8 Stadium since October 3, collecting eight points from four encounters since and Galca will be hoping Felipe Caicedo can inspire them again on Saturday, with the Ecuador international netting the only goal of the game in Espanyol’s last home game against Las Palmas.
Key Opta stats:
– The last three La Liga games between these two teams at Power8 Stadium have seen an Espanyol player sent off.
– Espanyol have only scored once in their last seven La Liga games against Barcelona (Sergio García in 2014).
– Barcelona have won more penalties than any other side in the top five European leagues (nine).
– No current Espanyol player has scored against Barcelona for the club (Felipe Caicedo did it for Levante on 2011 and Paco Montanes for Real Zaragoza in 2012).
– Neymar has assisted 12 goals in his last 12 appearances for Barcelona (all competitions).
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