The string of winter matches between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol last season, in both Copa and Liga, were emotional markers for both squads. The brutality of these encounters, epitomized by Pau Lopez’ intentional stomp on Leo Messi, underscored the animosity between the teams and their respective fans. It also made it clear that with the exception of the Clásico, these Catalan derbies are two of the most intense matches of the season. I was in Barcelona for these matches last year, and the sense of anticipation was palpable.
This year, as Barcelona host Espanyol for the first time in La Liga, there is another layer of hostility to add to the mix. Luis Enrique and Espanyol coach Quique Sánchez Flores are bitter enemies due to events of nearly 20 years ago when the players were teammates at Real Madrid.
This creates a charged backdrop for 90 minutes of football, and an experience for fans that defines the Spanish word Morbo: “ghoulish delight.”
This season, Espanyol seem to have given up rugby and are actually playing football for a change. They come into this contest riding a 10-match unbeaten streak. Their new keeper Diego López is in amazing form, and they currently sit ninth in the table on 22 points from 15 rounds. Flores will miss Víctor Sánchez, Leo Baptistao and Hernán Pérez, all unavailable due to injury.
For their part, Barcelona seem to have recovered their mojo in recent matches, a discovery of form that aligns with the return of Andreas Iniesta to the starting 11. The team currently sit in second place behind Real Madrid, with 31 points. This match will likely see Neymar return to the left wing after sitting out the last two matches because of suspension. Luis Enrique has a nearly complete squad at his disposal, with only Jeremy Mathieu sidelined with a lingering injury.
Barcelona must win this match to keep pace with their Liga rivals, and to retain any hope of winning the title. With Madrid in Japan this week, Barça can close the gap to three points with a win. History heavily favors a Barcelona victory: they have won this match for the last seven seasons running, and on paper, their squad is stronger than their rivals’ in every position. However, as Culés have come to expect, Espanyol always play their hearts out in this fixture, and a victory tomorrow will not be easy.
To celebrate reaching 80K on Twitter, totalBarça is giving away a free copy of Iniesta’s new book, The Artist: Being Iniesta! To win a free copy of the book, here’s what you have to do: tune in to our live-tweet of the Espanyol match on Sunday. At the end of the derby, there will be a tweet asking for your 140 character review of the match. The most entertaining match review will win this contest!