On Saturday, FC Barcelona will be making a short drive to neighboring Espanyol to face off in the always exciting Catalan derby. With the title race in full swing, this derby could prove as decisive as ever for Barcelona.
La Blaugrana are coming off of a big 3-0 victory over Celta Vigo and currently trail table-leaders Atletico Madrid by a mere point. A win on Saturday could possibly move Barcelona to the top of the table and you can rest assured they will leave everything on the pitch.
Tata Martino will need to put his best lineup on the pitch with Espanyol always a tough opponent. However, not everyone is available so there is no room for mistakes in this one.
With that being said, let’s take a look at how Barcelona will likely line up against their Catalan rivals.
The biggest issue for the defense will be the absence of Victor Valdes. The keeper tore his ACL in Wednesday's victory over Celta Vigo and will be out for the rest of the season.
Though missing Valdes is going to be very difficult for Barcelona to get passed, they have to move on. Backup keeper Jose Pinto will start between the sticks and fans will be expecting a strong showing.
On the sides of the back line, Martino should look to use speed. Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are the easy choices at the full-back positions and will give Barcelona the best chance to go forward and defend when turning the ball over.
The center-back pairing is always a hard prediction to nail down. Though Marc Bartra continues to show incredible form, he likely won’t be in the starting lineup.
Javier Mascherano will keep his partnership alongside Gerard Pique, but there is no room for error. With Valdes out of the lineup, the defense cannot afford to make mistakes or it could cost them dearly.
No question about it, Sergio Busquets will be back in the starting lineup. The Catalan midfielder is always one of the most influential players on the pitch and will be very important on Saturday.
Due to his great form and continuous impact, Andres Iniesta will also start in the midfield. His ability to create and link up play is invaluable and could give Barcelona another edge against their rivals.
The last midfield spot could go to either Xavi or Cesc Fabregas. Fabregas started in Barcelona’s win over Celta Vigo while Xavi had the night off. Most likely this means that Xavi will be in the lineup Saturday.
The midfield battle will decide a lot in Saturday’s meeting. Barcelona’s trio must be at their best because Espanyol will not give anything easy.
After scoring a brace on Wednesday, Neymar will remain in the starting lineup. He is finally starting to show consistency alongside Messi and Martino will look to keep that going.
Speaking of Lionel Messi, there is no way that he sits this one out. The Argentine is in incredible form as of late and always the deciding factor for La Blaugrana.
Alexis Sanchez has a great argument to start on Saturday as well after giving two assists against Celta Vigo. However, for rotational reasons, Pedro will start on the right wing.
Messi and Neymar will need to continue their partnership against Espanyol’s strong defense. The Catalan derby is never an easy contest, but the Blaugrana forwards should be a nightmare all match long.
Espanyol are trying to get back into the race for European play meaning this derby could be as decisive as ever. However, with the top spot in the table on the line, Barcelona should win this one with an incredible performance.
Final prediction. Espanyol 1-3 Barcelona
* All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com