The Catalan derby will be the perfect test for Luis Enrique’s team and their title ambitions. With neighbours Espanyol paying a visit to Camp Nou it will be up for Barcelona to repeat the last season’s showings from the 5-0 win and stake claim on La Liga title race yet again, following a three-match winless run.
La Liga title over?
Three consecutive La Liga draws have derailed Barcelona and made their efforts to get back in the title race extremely difficult. Malaga, Real Sociedad and ultimately Real Madrid, who stole a point in the final moments of the game, all inflicted heavy blow to Barcelona’s title ambitions. Sitting in second place in the table with a six-point gap behind the leaders Real Madrid, the Catalans will need to up their game as soon as possible. The 3-0 win over Osasuna was a good way to restore some of the confidence lost with Luis Suarez scoring and Messi notching a brace to earn their team a vital victory. Pressure will be on Neymar to end his scoring drought of eight matches, the worst one since arriving to Barcelona. He did manage to end it with a meaningless goal in a 5-3 friendly victory over Saudi Arabia greats Al Ahli in Qatar on Tuesday and the Brazilian will be hopeful it was just the spark he needed to get back in form.
Luis Enrique is expected to field his strongest line-up against Espanyol as the Catalans face no big-name injuries. Andres Iniesta is expected to take his place in the midfield, whereas Enrique is unlikely to make changes to his trident upfront despite Neymar’s poor spell. Defender Jeremy Mathieu remains the only unavailable player for the home side.
Can Espanyol control emotions?
Matches against the great rivals and neighbours Barcelona often end up being fiercely contested clashes with tempers flaring on both sides. Such was the case during Espanyol’s penultimate visit to Camp Nou when they had their two players sent off in an incident which sparked a tunnel confrontation with Barcelona players. Controlling the emotions will be imperative for Flores’s men who will be seeking a first win over Barcelona in a while. Espanyol failed to beat Barcelona since 2009 and were outscored by 19 to 1 in the last five meetings with neighbours and Camp Nou. Quique Sanchez Flores has turned his team into a tough nut to crack and Espanyol will sure be hoping to extend their positive run of results which yielded four wins out of last six games. What is more, Espanyol are without a defeat in their last ten matches in all competition, which is something visitors hope will go on after the Sunday’s highly anticipated match.
Visitors will be sweating over the fitness of their top striker Pablo Piatti, who is struggling with a hamstring injury. In addition, Hernan Perez is a doubt due to a knock he sustained last time out, whereas Salva Sevilla and Javi Lopez are definite absentees.
Barcelona are fully expected to continue their dominance over the less extravagant neighbours as Neymar seeks a chance to get back to form after a troubling dry spell. Luis Enrique’s men cannot afford another set-back which would effectively rule them out of the La Liga title race and we predict a clear home win on Sunday night.
Top pick: Barcelona/Barcelona 1.50 (1/2) @Coral
Alternative pick 1: Over 3.5 goals 1.85 (17/20) @BetVictor
Alternative pick 2: Neymar to score anytime 1.75 (3/4) @WilliamHill