Almost there folks, it’s game 37 of the 2012/13 season and Barça make their final away trip of the year, though it’s only 9 kilometers down the B-20 to Espanyol’s Cornellà-El Prat stadium. Again objectively this match holds near nigh mathematical meaning. FC Barcelona have secured the title, and vanquished the poison of Spanish football José Mourinho in the process, and Espanyol have once more navigated themselves to mid-table safety while dreams of European competition are very much of the pipe kind. But, it is a derby and the white-blue side of Barcelona were rather perturbed with the Nike stunt of promoting the new Barça kit on the statue of Christopher Columbus at the bottom of the famed Ramblas. In response the club produced a video for the derby that features the Espanyol flag being waved in front of all of Barcelona’s famous sites like La Sagrada Familia, Ramblas, and others, in essence trying to reclaim the city as their own. So the motivations in theory are Barça will fight for the 100 points record and Espanyol will call upon pride to defend their honor and their city. That’s only in theory and whether the players on the pitch, with summer holiday on their minds, will play to such motivation remains to be seen.
There genuinely isn’t a great deal to preview. The news cycle for FC Barcelona has been slow of late with the vast majority focusing on the Neymar negotiations. And as happens when the matches wind down and the news is slow, the rumors surface. Alves maybe to Paris, Thiago is apparently entertaining a host of suitors. Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know, you don’t know, and frankly the journalists that manufacture these supposed scoops don’t know either. The pages need to be full for the papers to printed. Nothing of the sort is likely to be complete until the season officially ends.
Tito Vilanova is reported to be in attendance for the match despite just returning from New York, but truthfully if I was Rosell or Zubizarreta I’d have told him pushing himself with all that air travel right after treatment is quite unnecessary.
“This is the drop that fills the cup” were the words of Espanyol president Joan Collet about the Columbus incident, Spanish for the straw the breaks the camel’s back. He was pretty upset with the whole thing, as he tends to get with all things Barça related that he perceives to patronize and overshadow Espanyol. Again, whether the Espanyol players share his fury and will bring it to the pitch isn’t certain but from media reaction it does not seem so.
Something that is certain is that trips to the Cornellà-El Prat have been tricky for FC Barcelona. Sunday will be the team’s fourth visit since the new stadium opened in 2009 and thus far Barça have managed victory just once (5-1, 2012/13) but generally the matches have been hard-fought and intense as were the two draws (0-0, 1-1).
Javier Aguirre cannot call upon Héctor Moreno nor key man Victor Álvarez due to injury while Tejera is suspended. Players that have recovered in time for tomorrows match are former Barça midfielder Victor Sánchez, Forlín and Capdevila.
Predicted XI: Álvarez; J. López, Rodríguez, Colotto, Capdevila; V. Sánchez, Forlín; Stuani, Verdú, Wakaso; S. García
Match Squad: C. Álvarez, F. Mattioni, Raúl R., Víctor Sánchez, Forlín, Raúl Baena, Stuani, Sergio García, Verdú, Kiko Casilla, Javi López, Capdevila, Colotto, Simao, Wakaso, C. Gómez, Christian Alfonso, Cubillas.
Argentine pair Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano will not participate and whether both Adriano and Alves play will be a game time decision. Abidal is also not fully fit and I’d say is unlikely to feature because he will most definitely have a run out on the final home game which, if rumors are true, could be his last.
Predicted XI: Valdés; Montoya, Piqué, Bartra, Alba; Thiago, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Fàbregas, Villa
Match Squad: TBA
There really isn’t much purpose trying to predict these end of the season matches with minimal meaning. It is a derby and possibly that innate rivalry will create some competitiveness but do not underestimate the humanness of these players and the ability of their mind to drift to the beaches they soon will be lounging about on for the next months. Nobody want’s to break a bone or tear a ligament when Ibiza beckons. Espanyol have more sentimental matches to consider when on June 3 they will have a friendly in remembrance of their captain Daniel Jarque. Iniesta will be the chief host of the event that will be played with other current and former Barça players like Fàbregas and Oriol Romeu. Hopefully Vilanova and Roura put out a creative lineup and give minutes to the fringe players who have been ever so patient all year long.
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