As the giants can relegate their city rivals, our editors try predicting the final score and mention their player to watch of Wednesday’s derby between Barcelona and Espanyol.
Following consecutive draws against Celta de Vigo and Atlético de Madrid, Barcelona got back to winning ways in brilliant fashion with a 1–4 victory over Villarreal on Sunday. Maybe such result was symbolic for the La Liga title race, considering Real Madrid hold the advantage with a four-point gap at the top of the table. Still, Barça will be looking to continue gaining confidence and form in an always special local derby with rivals RCD Espanyol.
Barcelona, second in the league, could officially relegate 20th-placed Espanyol if the blaugranas were to beat them tonight at the Camp Nou. Considering the latest triumph from Barça and also Espanyol’s tragic form, there are reasons for optimism for culés this evening. Nonetheless, the Periquitos will also be hoping to ruin their enemies’ title hopes, and at least postpone their relegation. Ahead of Wednesday’s spicy encounter, our editors try predicting the final score, as well as sharing their player to watch, from the duel between Barcelona and Espanyol.
Barcelona 4–0 Espanyol
Game of fun
Barcelona no longer depend on themselves to win La Liga, so now all that remains is to wait for Real Madrid to drop points. Even so, the blaugranas still have to keep fighting. Against Espanyol, it will be a different duel as, in the Barcelona derby, los Periquitos tend to be motivated to win against the culés. Notwithstanding, a streak of five defeats in a row and an inevitable relegation are reasons for Barcelona not to have much trouble obtaining the three points.
“Of course we can win La Liga. Reality and the maths prove it. It’s not easy, but you have to hope until the last day. We have to think about ourselves and win every game; see that there is a progression”
More than a decisive match, it may be a fun match for the local players. The Barcelona players – insert Gerard Piqué – love facing Espanyol and they will show their smile if they officially send one of their most historic rivals to the Second Division. It may be the last Derbi Barceloní for some time in La Liga.
Player to watch: Antoine Griezmann
After a series of matches without performing at a good level, Antoine Griezmann smiled again against Villarreal. He will probably start in the clash against Espanyol and he will look to continue offering elite football. A Griezmann comfortable on the pitch, with a role and in the area he likes the most, is simply poetic. When he is so active there is no one who can stop him from shining. If he plays, don’t be surprised if you see a showtime by the Little Prince.
Barcelona 3–0 Espanyol
It’s Adiós for Espanyol
As the two teams meet for the second time this season, there seems to be absolutely no reason for Barcelona to drop any further points. RCD Espanyol are on the last of their lifelines, and will be relegated anyway, if it is not at the hands of Barcelona – which seems the likelier result at the moment.
Gerard Piqué will certainly be looking to score against Espanyol once more | Photo by Imago
Quique Setién has found a rhythm with the 4–3–1–2 and we might see it again against their town rivals. It helps the players in the centre of the park to bypass a deep block easily without compromising numbers in attack. Moreover, neither team boast of a good form right now, but obviously one of the two teams has it worse – Espanyol. Their journey in the Spanish top flight will come to an end tonight, and Barca will be motivated to make it happen.
Player to watch: Gerard Piqué
Gerard Piqué has proven this season that he is still among the best centre-backs in the world who can come up with clutch performances against big sides. He has been able to retain this form since the restart of football, keeping four clean sheets out of a possible eight.
Barcelona’s captain without an armband absolutely loves a game versus Espanyol and will do his best to score a goal, or one of many that puts an end to the Catalan Derby.
Barcelona 4–0 Espanyol
Momentum, dearly needed
Quique Setién’s head was on the chopping block before Sunday’s game against Villarreal. After two consecutive draws from the culés basically gifted Real Madrid the title, Los Blancos only need eight points in four games to wrap up the title, meaning they can afford to lose once or draw twice. However, Barcelona have sharpened their game since narrowly winning against Athletic Club two weeks ago. The Catalans were good but not great against Celta de Vigo and Atlético de Madrid, but they upped their game against Villarreal.
“We have to look at what we can do. Win, leave good feelings, make progress. And if not in this competition, everything we do is worth it for the next one”
Now against Espanyol, they must find momentum for the latter stages of the season. This match could mean a lot for Barcelona. First of all, they can relegate their neighbours with a win at the Camp Nou, but that could be the least of their worries tonight. If they win, they will put pressure on Real Madrid, but they can also gain momentum for the Champions League. A dominant win such as the one against Villarreal is primordial, especially in this system that seemed to work but needs further adjustments to be perfect.
Quique Setién has to opt with a similar squad than the one that demolished Villarreal, but a few changes are needed. Arturo Vidal seemed shattered on Sunday, and Gerard Piqué, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez need rest if they are going to play for much longer. Antoine Griezmann should have another chance to shine after he had his best game in red and blue on Sunday. For Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba, they should be given continuity for their excellent form since coming back.
Player to watch: Sergi Roberto
Griezmann has to find form after dominating the Yellow Submarine, but his teammate Sergi Roberto needs it more. The La Masía graduate immediately got an injury when Quique Setién first came to Barça, but his return has been scintillating. As a right-back or a midfielder, he has carried the ball magnificently, getting it in deep areas and moving with it further up the pitch in dangerous zones.
Nélson Semedo isn’t having the best run of form but has shone at times, and Frenkie de Jong isn’t back in the match squad. That means Sergi can be a starter at two positions and maybe make amends with an assist, as his assist to Messi on Sunday was disallowed by VAR.
The Catalan will be essential when trying to unlock the midfield and will be helped by Sergio Busquets and hopefully Riqui Puig. All in all, all eyes should be on Sergi tonight as he will want to relegate Espanyol and help Barça on their pursuit of the title.
Barcelona 3–0 Espanyol
The decisive derby
The Camp Nou readies itself to witness what could be the last Derbi Barceloní for the foreseeable future. Emotions will be high and football at its best. Espanyol have failed to register a point on board in the last five games. Another similar result tonight will seal their fate in the Segunda. Expectations on Barcelona, particularly on the MSG attacking trio, are sky-high after the performance on Sunday. However, tonight’s encounter is a totally different ballgame. Espanyol do not leave as many spaces between the lines like Villareal. It will be interesting to see if the central overload work against a low block.
Player to watch: Antoine Griezmann
The Frenchman has had a rough start to his Barcelona career. He never really adapted to the wing role that was asked of him and dropped a series of disappointing performances. The lowest point of his period at Barcelona was surely the game against Atlético de Madrid, where he didn’t feature till added time.
“The feeling you have is that the three have found each other; I think they had found each other before. The other day [against Villarreal] was brilliant because the moves ended in goals. I’m not just guided by one game, I think you have to see things in perspective. There are many variables in every game. What your opponent proposes also has an influence”
on the Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann front three
He sprung back in glorious style in the last game after Quique Setién tweaked the formation against Villarreal. The new system saw the front three combine with amazing chemistry and create innumerable chances to score. All eyes once again will be on Griezmann and how well he combines with Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. Will he be able to build on his impressive display on Sunday?
Predicted Barcelona lineup against Sevilla — Pedri, Mingueza to start
Barcelona are on a tightrope once again. This time, however, the cup, which is usually neglected as the least important target is the primary objective of Ronald Koeman’s men.
Just under 72 hours of facing Lopetegui’s men at the Ramon Sanchez Pijzuan, the Catalans welcome the side home to host the second leg of the semi-final of the Copa del Rey. The Blaugranas trail by two goals, which amps up the graveness of the situation. Koeman and co. need to score at least three goals to go through, not to mention that they cannot afford to concede. An away goal to Sevilla would be a wound too deep for the Blaugranas to recover from.
In many respects, this is the most important game of the season for the hosts. While it could seal a place in the Cup final, more importantly, it would provide the side with some much needed psychological reinforcement. It would send down the belief that they, too, can be on the right side of remontadas. And it would instil the confidence to repeat the feat against PSG, where they need to score five goals. Here is how Barcelona can lineup against Sevilla, with fans almost inclined towards the 3-5-2 again.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s injury in warm-up scared fans across the globe. However, the German wall started the game and finished it without much trouble. While the same opposition did not ruffle too many feathers at the weekend, tomorrow may be a whole different ballgame. With Sevilla knowing that an away goal could be enough to see them through, Ter Stegen will have a big night ahead.
Ronald Araujo’s return from injury did not last long, as he was taken off once again owing to a sprain. It is unlikely that he will be risked on Wednesday.
Koeman would ideally not look to tamper around with the winning formula, moreover against the same team. Gerard Pique will the ideal option to start through the centre at the back. The World Cup winner has been a silent rock since his return. Given how much the Spaniard is usually criticized, a silent period from the media implied fantastic performances.
Oscar Mingueza will start at the right of the defence. The youngster has been wonderful defensively, with a slowly improved passing range and spatial awareness. Given Araujo’s injury, his chance seems to be set.
The Spanish duo will be complemented by Clement Lenglet, who will start at left centre-back. The Frenchman once again had a rather poor outing midweek. However being part of a working formula, the coach may not want to tamper with things.
A three man defense means a five man midfield. An utter domination of the middle of the park, while spreading the play to both wings equally. At the Camp Nou again, that will be the norm.
Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba will continue as wingbacks on the right and left sides, respectively. With the three-person defence, they will have their defensive duties cut short. Once again, as on Saturday, they will look to be the threat on the wings.
Sergio Busquets will continue as the anchor, following up a textbook performance against the same opposition. The Spanish International was crucial in recovering the ball for the Catalans whilst also opening up latent channels in the attack.
Frenkie de Jong has now earned the right to be placed at the elite class of midfielders at the moment. The renewed version of the Dutchman has been almost unstoppable for oppositions. He will again start on Wednesday given the weight of the clash.
Pedri was supposedly ruled out for 2 weeks, however, through a miracle, he is back training with the group within 48 hours! The player is determined to participate in the game against Sevilla, knowing well the weight riding on it. Pedri’s attitude just cannot be faulted. If at all the Canary Islander is indeed fit, he will return to his permanent starting spot.
The front two in attack combined beautifully to score the opening goal on Saturday, and nothing will change for the Cup game.
Ousmane Dembele‘s pace was one of Sevilla’s biggest troubles at the Ramon Sanchez Pijzuan. The Frenchman destroyed the high line of Lopetegui’s side. He will undoubtedly start.
Lionel Messi has always been Sevilla’s Achilles heel. The Red-and-white of Seville are the Argentine’s favourite target, and he added a goal and an assist to that amazing tally at the weekend. The side seemed to have no answers to the Catalan captain’s guile and genius. If Leo turns it on again, Barcelona are surely going straight into the final.
Dembele · Messi
Alba · Pedri · Busquets · de Jong · Dest
Lenglet · Pique · Mingueza
One has to start with the man of the moment. Ilaix Moriba was given his second chance of the season midweek and responded by providing his second assist. His physicality matched the opponents like for like, and his comfort on the ball further destabilized the defence. He would be a crucial cog.
Antoine Griezmann was once again not used in the 2-0 win, however, any desperate situation demanding a goal could see the Frenchman subbed in.
Martin Braithwaite could be an asset on the night, too, as his growing chemistry seems to be reaping rewards. The Dane has evolved into much more than a traditional no. 9, and he would be an option for the coach on the latter half.