Verdict: Total goals under 3.5
Best odds: 3/4
The season continues in La Liga this week after the World Cup with its 15th round this week, and on Saturday afternoon, the city of Barcelona will be blessed with the Derbi Barceloni at the Camp Nou where Barcelona welcome Espanyol. Quite apart from the significance of this fixture for the people of the city, it’s an important match for both teams as they seek to achieve their respective goals for the season, as different as they obviously are.
Over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of talk about Barcelona being in a crisis of all sorts, as they suffered severe financial problems, failed to win the La Liga title since 2019 and the Champions League since 2015, and eventually lost their arguably greatest icon ever, Lionel Messi, last summer. Bayern Munich even made a strong dig at their predicament at one point, refusing to accept their offer of paying for Robert Lewandowski in yearly installments due to, as they reportedly said, doubts whether FC Barcelona would exist in a couple of years.
However, Barcelona have obviously picked up the pieces of their shattered glory and their working their way upwards again, led by former captain Xavi Hernandez who doesn’t appear to have any less knack for coaching than he did for spraying passes. At the moment, Barcelona top the La Liga table with 37 points, two more than arch-rivals Real Madrid in second, and 10 more than Atletico Madrid, who have already played their 15th match of the season, in third.
They weren’t as successful in the Champions League though, and the biggest trophy in European club football will not be coming back to Camp Nou this season either after they finished third in their group, behind Bayern and Inter Milan. They will now be preparing to enter the Europa League, where they’ll face Manchester United in the first knockout round.
Barcelona’s last six competitive matches were all played before the World Cup, and therefore their form probably isn’t represented by those results. Still, those results were a 4-0 triumph over Athletic Bilbao at home, a 0-3 defeat at home to Bayern, a 0-1 win away to Valencia, a 2-4 win over Viktoria in Plzen, a 2-0 home win over Almeria, and a 1-2 triumph away to Osasuna. That last victory was particularly impressive as the Catalans played the whole second half with nine men, after Lewandowski and Gerard Pique picked up two bookings apiece in the first.
Lewandowski and Pique are obviously suspended for this clash, which probably means Ferran Torres leading the front line with Raphinha and Ousmane Dembele on the flanks, and Jules Kounde pairing up with Eric Garcia in the heart of defence.
Meanwhile, defender Ronald Araujo and midfielders Franck Kessie and Sergi Roberto are available after recovering from their respective pre-World Cup injuries.
And while Barcelona are battling against Real Madrid for the title, Espanyol are looking to avoid relegation and get out of that talk as soon a possible. They are not in the red zone for the time being, but sitting 16th with 12 points, just one more than Sevilla and Cadiz who are in the zone, they’re far too close for comfort.
Further more, Sevilla are largely expected to bounce back from their abysmal form at some point, possibly starting away to Celta Vigo on Friday, which means Espanyol have a lot of work to do to secure their top-flight status. Their memories of 2019/20, when they finished last and spent the following campaign in the Segunda Division, will still be fresh.
The form of Diego Martinez’s team before the World Cup won’t be much of a consolation source, and their supporters will be hoping that the players made good use of the break to recharge their batteries.
Their last-six run of competitive matches consists of a 2-2 draw at home against Elche, a 1-1 draw away to Mallorca, a 1-1 draw away to Atletico Madrid, a 0-1 defeat at home to Villarreal, a 0-3 triumph away to Rincon in the Copa del Rey first round, and a 0-1 win away to Atletico Paso in the second. They played two friendlies during the World Cup, losing 0-1 to Serie A side Torino and drawing 1-1 against Belgian Mechelen.
Forward Martin Braithwaite left Barcelona and joined Espanyol as a free agent in September, and the Denmark international will surely be highly motivated to prove his former club wrong in their decision to release him.
Defender Leandro Cabrera has served his suspension and is available for this match. The 31-year-old should come straight back into the starting XI.
On the other hand, midfielder Keidi Bare is out with a ligament injury, while left-back Adria Pedrosa remains a doubt through a hernia problem.
Barcelona will surely be looking to boost their points tally and not risk losing ground in the title race, and with all due respect, there’s very little Espanyol will be able to do to stop them. A derby or not, the Blaugrana are strong favourites to win, but arguably with not too many goals.
Verdict: Total goals under 3.5
Best odds: 3/4
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