The year of 2020 sees the first derby in La Liga this weekend, the Catalan derby between Espanyol and Barcelona. Their positions on the standings are in contrast. The host is currently at the bottom of the table with only ten points while El Barca is on the top with thirty nine points. It should be considered as an easy game for the visitor’s side but it will be quite tricky considering the latest development of both teams.
Espanyol has just appointed Abelardo Fernandez, the former manager of Sporting Gijon and Alaves. Yet, he is more well-known as the retired Barcelona centre back in the mid 1990s era. Abelardo was part of The Catalan’s generation from 1994 to 2002. Now, it will be a tricky task to face them off in his debut this season. The team’s mentality has been at their worst. They were defeated by Leganes 0-2 in their last game of 2019.
Lionel Messi and Co might not have their easy season as before. They are back on a tight title race with their arch rival Real Madrid, which is only two points behind them. Their form in 2019 is still satisfactory but not very impressive. In the final game last year, Valverde’s men hammered Alaves 4-1. Their deadly trio front man, Messi, Suarez and Griezmann started to find their rhythm. They each scored one plus another goal from Arturo Vidal to seal their three points at home before the winter break.
Missing players and probable line-ups:
Abelardo Fernandez might still be deploying the same formation as his predecessor, Pablo Manchin, at first to ease the players’ transition with his tactics. Based on the current squad he has, the 5-3-2 seems to be the best option to take on Barcelona by employing layered wall and close down the space for Messi, Suarez and Griezmann when they get the ball. Unfortunately, there are some key figures to be sidelined for this game because of suspension (Marc Roca and Esteban Granero) and the injury (Sebastian Corchia, Mathias Vargas and Victor Sanchez)
Espanyol: Diego Lopez; Naldo, Fernando Calero, Bernardo Espinosa, Adrian Pedrosa, Javi Lopez; Sergi Darder, Ander Itturaspe, David Lopez; Pablo Piatti, Jonathan Calleri.
Meanwhile, Blaugrana’s favourite formation is 4-3-3 with ball possession and offensive creative attacks as always relying on Messi as the centre of the game supported by Frankie De Jong or Busquets and Arturo Vidal. Unfortunately, Ernesto Valverde would not be able to play some key players due to the injury. They are Marc Andre Ter-Stegen (knee injury), Artur Melo (Pubitis) and Ousmane Dembele (hamstring injury). Neto, Ivan Rakitic and Ansu Fati could be put in the line up to rest Luis Suarez for a while considering his initial degrading form due to his age.
Barcelona: Neto; Samuel Umtiti, Junior Firpo, Sergi Roberto, Clement Lenglet; Frankie De Jong, Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic; Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati.
El Barca is surely the dominant side in their head-to-head meetings. They have won five times in the last eight encounters. Espanyol only managed to win once in January 2018.
Valverde’s men are the absolute favourite. However, Abelardo, who is technically the former inside man of Catalan squad back then, has the potential to snatch at least one point with his pragmatic approach in the game later. If his team could contain Messi plus maximise the counter attack, their hope to even repeat their last victory two years ago in the same month would be alive.
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