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PREVIEW: Barça v Espanyol

There are just four games to go in the 2019/20 Liga season, and Wednesday 8 July brings what promises to be an especially intense Barcelona Derby, even though on this occasion it will be played behind closed doors. Both teams are running out of time and can settle for nothing less than three points to keep their respective (and starkly contrasting) dreams alive.

This is yet another 10.00pm CEST kick-off, the same time as all but one of Barça’s previous post-lockdown matches.

Barça: Still in contention

An impressive 4-1 win at Villarreal on Sunday kept Barça’s Liga title chances alive, but leaders Real Madrid had won 1-0 at San Mamés earlier in the day, meaning that the four-point difference (effectively five because Madrid have the better head-to-head record) has been maintained, but there is now one less chance to cut it down.

All Barça can do is keep winning and hope that Madrid fail to win at least two of their last four games (at home to Alavés and Villarreal and away to Granada and Leganés).

Espanyol: Deep trouble

For Espanyol, things have become desperate. They were bottom of the table when lockdown began, and although they got off to a bright start when play resumed, they have now chained together five straight defeats and are eleven points adrift of salvation. It means they now have to win all four of their remaining games to have any chance of survival, but that depends on the highly unlikely scenario of the likes of Celta, Eibar and Mallorca losing all their remaining fixtures.

For all realistic intents and purposes, Espanyol are already condemned to second division football for the sixth time in their history. Every time they have been relegated in the past, they have always been able to bounce straight back up again the following season.

It has been a miserable season for the parakeets, who sacked their third manager of the season in late June, former Barça man Abelardo following on from David Gallego and Pablo Machin. Sporting director Francisco Rufete has taken charge until the end of the season.

In contrast, the team was enjoying a wonderful run in the Europa League, but it came to an end with a heavy defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers – Aberlardo opting to play a team of youngsters in order to focus instead on the mission to avoid relegation.

Last five games
Espanyol 1-3 Levante
Real Betis 1-0 Espanyol
Espanyol 0-1 Real Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Espanyol
Espanyol 0-1 Leganés

Head to head

The oldest fixture in Spanish football (dating all the way back to 1900) has very much been Barça’s domain in recent years. They have not lost any of their last 21 league meetings with their local rivals, going all the way back to the infamous night in 2009 when Ivan de la Peña scored twice at Camp Nou.

Espanyol did get a 1-0 win in the Copa del Rey two seasons ago, but ultimately lost that tie 2-1. And in the reverse fixture earlier this season at the RCDE Stadium, Javi López and Marc Roca put Espanyol into a shock 2-0 lead before two goals from Frenkie de Jonglevelled things up at 2-2.

Last five meetings
04/01/20 (LIGA) Espanyol 2-2 FC Barcelona
30/03/19 (LIGA) FC Barcelona 2-0 Espanyol
08/12/18 (LIGA) Espanyol 0-4 FC Barcelona
04/02/18 (LIGA) Espanyol 1-1 FC Barcelona
25/01/18 (LIGA) FC Barcelona 2-0 Espanyol

Team news

Barça are once again without any of the injured Ousmane Dembélé, Frenkie de Jong, Samuel Umtiti and Junior Firpo, meaning there are plenty of Barça B players in what is the same squad as the one that played at the weekend.

Did you know?

The 49 points that currently separate Barça and Espanyol is the second widest gap ever between the teams going into a derby. In 2013, Barça led by 50 points going into the final day, a 2-0 win under Tito Vilanova to complete the historic 2100-point season. In 2009, there was also a massive difference, 42 points, but Espanyol clinched a shock 2-1 win at Camp Nou.

Leo Messi has scored a fabulous 25 goals against Barça’s neighbours, making the blue-and-whites his fifth ‘favourite’ victim. These goals have included three hat-tricks.

Espanyol caretaker manager Rufete has a blaugrana past. He rose through the youth ranks at FC Barcelona, and made his first team debut in 1996. He played in the same Barça B team as the current coach of the reserves, Garcia Pimienta. Rufete would go to enjoy five fine years at Valencia before signing for Espanyol in 2006.

Gerard Piqué loves a derby, and he has scored more goals against Espanyol, six, than any other team.

Setién’s views

"Derbies never have anything to do with the respective positions of the teams in the table. It is a very important game for the players. It’ll be exciting. The two teams are in very different situations.”

“Of course we can win the league. Mathematically we can although it won’t be easy, but we’ll keep hoping until the last day. We need to keep winning and making progress because it’ll all help for the next competition.”

"Ideally De Jong will be back against Valladolid. He trained today, but not at full intensity. If he can’t play that game, he’ll be ready for the next.”

"It’s not a case of Barcelona sending Espanyol into the second division. It’s a long process and a series of circumstances that are now coming to an end.”

Source: FC Barcelona

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