The Catalan derby is upon us on Sunday with defending champions Barcelona playing host to their local rivals Espanyol in a game that would get them one step closer to the ultimate goal of retaining the La Liga title.
Every match a final for Barca
It has been an amazing season for Barcelona and their most recent slip in form cannot ruin that claim. Up to the March international break they were on the safe path to retain the domestic title, but have returned from the “holiday” unrecognizable, allowing Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid to cut the 11-point gap, get level on terms and close to just one point behind, respectively. Barcelona have dismissed talks of the crisis with compelling triumphs in recent weeks and are keen to go from strength to strength in order to reaffirm their title charge. The situation is quite simple for Barcelona as things stand right now. Luis Enrique’s men need to win both of the final two matches to be crowned champions once again. They could win the title this weekend as well and will hope for Atletico to lose at Levante and for Real Madrid to drop points at Santiago Bernabeu against Valencia.
Thomas Vermaelen and Jeremy Mathie remain sidelined for the Sunday encounter, but other than that Luis Enrique will have full crop of players to choose from for the Catalan derby. Aleix Vidal is expected to surrender his place in the team to Dani Alves as Blaugrana are expected to field their strongest XI.
Relegation fears still very much alive for Espanyol
The situation would have been much worse had Espanyol failed to pick three points against Sevilla last week, but the Catalans are not safe from the drop just yet and will head into the final two rounds trembling in fear. Espanyol have won the total of 40 points and are currently occupying the 14th place, five points clear of the bottom three. Their win over Sevilla was the first league victory since they managed to beat Athletic Bilbao in March and there is little hope left for the Catalans to feel like they can do anything to stop Barcelona from winning the derby at Camp Nou. Catalan derbies are important for the community and the entire rivalry between two sets of fans, but Espanyol will be preoccupied with the final match of the season. A home game against Eibar next weekend will be their last chance of ending the season on a high.
Victor Alvarez and Gerard Moreno are both pushing for starts after coming off from the bench against Sevilla last week. Felipe Caicedo should continue in attack, while Jose Canas is expected to start from the bench despite making his long-awaited return last week.
Other than its usual importance, this Sunday’s Catalan derby holds great value for both teams who are looking to accomplish their respective goals. Barcelona need to win in order to get one step closer to winning the title, while Espanyol are still on the lookout for salvation points. All in all, we are bound to witness a cracker of a game.
Top pick: HT/FT Home win 1.22 (2/9) @Bet365
Alternative pick 1: Over 3.5 goals 1.34 (2/5) @888sport
Alternative pick 2: Luis Suarez to score anytime 1.3 (3/10) @WilliamHill