La Blaugrana chase league leaders Atletico Madrid by a single point and can't afford to drop any points with the season nearing its conclusion.
Hosts Espanyol, meanwhile, sit comfortably in the middle of the table and with the Europa League still in reach have a lot to play for, but spoiling Barcelona's title chase could possible even be more of a highlight in the team's season.
Date: Saturday, March 29
Time: 3 p.m. GMT/11 a.m. ET
Venue: Estadi Cornella-El Prat
TV info and live stream: The match will be a delayed broadcast on Sky Sports 2 at 5.15 p.m GMT, with mobile coverage available via the Sky Go app (subscription required).
The big news associated with Barcelona this week is, of course, the injury to star goalkeeper Victor Valdes. The experienced stopper tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season and the 2014 World Cup, as reported by the club's official Twitter account:
B/R's Tre' Atkinson wrote an excellent article on the impact of this injury, and while there are plenty of pundits who will tell you the Spanish international is undeserving of some of the hype he has carried for the bulk of his career, Valdes is undoubtedly Barcelona's best and most experienced option between the sticks.
Jose Manuel Pinto will most likely be the man tasked with replacing Valdes, and while the veteran stopper is a capable option in goal, it will no doubt further complicate a title race that is already shaping up to be one for the ages.
Espanyol traditionally play Barcelona well but haven't beaten their city rivals since the 2011 season. BarcaStat shared the full official history between both clubs:
Manager Javier Aguirre sounded confident speaking to the press on Friday, showing no signs of fear or hesitation, as reported by heatGCF for Inside Spanish Football:
The characteristics of our play mean that there’s plenty of contact in our game. We’re intense and we battle. The player who makes the difference with the ball, is Sergio García. We’ve improved a lot in that respect. In our last four games we’ve been more fluid with the ball and we’ve given a good image of ourselves.
Then there’s Barca, who are fighting for the title in La Liga, are in the Champions League and in the final of the Copa del Rey, who have been at their very best level in the last few weeks. Keeping company with them isn’t going to be easy for us, but amongst our fans, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for this game and a great desire for us to win.
They’ve improved since their defeat against Real Valladolid. They’re a team with fantastic players, world champions, champions of Europe, Champions League winners, scoring goals from everywhere and breaking records every week. They’re always amongst the best teams in the world, but we don’t feel inferior, ahead of playing them. We’ll be fighting with our own strengths. What better way to achieve our primary objective, then say that with seven games left, we can go for everything else.
This is a game where we cannot show any hesitation, doubts or fear. We have a good cushion of points, we’re in a healthy position. We can’t turn our backs on the chance of winning, so in that respect we can’t be timid.
Lionel Messi has been in fine form in the last few weeks, playing a decisive role in the team's win against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu before putting in another strong effort against Celta Vigo.
But while the team might have the highest ranked offensive output in all of La Liga with 88 total goals (per Whoscored.com), the Catalan derby is usually a tightly contested affair.
The Blaugrana will be going into this tie as the favourites, but don't expect this game to be an easy win for the visitors. With a wide-open title chase and a UEFA Champions League bid still on the table, this match could have the makings of a classic trap game.
Prediction: Espanyol 1-2 Barcelona
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