In the last league game of 2016, Barcelona blew past city rivals Espanyol with a Messi and Iniesta inspired 4-1 victory.
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.”
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Off the back of the disappointing Clásico, today’s match up against an Osasuna team who have won just one of their last 14 home league games was Barcelona’s chance to end their three match drawing streak in La Liga and begin the catch up on Real Madrid, who were six points ahead of Barça at the start of the weekend.
Barcelona fans needed one thing from the last group stage match in Champions League play, a victory. Four draws in five matches in all competitions has left a bitter taste in the Blaugrana’s mouths, but there were three other things the faithful desperately wanted to happen to turn the recent tide for the club. With the top spot in Group C already secured, supporters hoped to see a goal from Paco Alcácer, strong displays from fringe players, and for Lionel Messi to break Cristiano Ronaldo’s record for most goals in the group stage. Well, one out of three ain’t bad especially with the dominating performance displayed by FC Barcelona on the night.
A brief history of Messi’s position:
2006-2009: Messi is a long-haired ball of fury playing on the right wing.
Saturday will mark the 265th Clásico meeting between these two teams, the best in Spain for many years now. For Barça, this particular match is crucial, as Madrid sit six points ahead of them in La Liga standings. Cutting their lead to three would be a great result if Barcelona can get a win. Despite their bad play of late, it’s not impossible. In fact, Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, and Alvaro Morata are now definitely out for Madrid while Andrés Iniesta might make a return from his knee injury suffered against Valencia.
The curse of Anoeta continues as FC Barcelona is lucky to win a draw against a dominating La Real performance. A moment of magic between Neymar and Lionel Messi rescued the club one point. They now sit six behind Real Madrid heading into the first El Clásico of the season.
Past visits to play Real Sociedad at the Anoeta have proved to be peculiar, with Barça throwing everything at La Real and lacking a bit of luck in the final third. This draw feels like a lot more than just a ‘curse’, that Barcelona were genuinely outplayed by a team on great form.
On Sunday the La Liga kicks off for FC Barcelona for matchday 13. This time it’s a trip to San Sebastián to face Real Sociedad at the Anoeta. Exactly the stadium Anoeta has for the last decade been a true curse for Barcelona when playing there. Barcelona has not been able to win there since 2007, meaning a total of 6 straight La Liga games without winning there. With the current standings in the La Liga table in mind and the Clasico next weekend, a win is necessary for the team this weekend.