Monday, March 31, 2014

Espanyol-Barcelona Preview: Hosts hoping to derail Blaugrana's title bid

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta

Espanyol will be out to halt the title ambitions of Barcelona as their bitter city rivals continue their hunt for a 23rd La Liga crown.

Gerardo Martino's men have recovered emphatically from a surprise 1-0 defeat at Real Valladolid earlier this month, winning three Liga matches on the bounce.

They have scored 14 goals in the process, following up Sunday's epic 4-3Clasicosuccess at bitter rivals Real Madrid with a routine 3-0 home win over Celta in midweek to really ignite their title charge.

However, Barca will face a stiff test on Saturday against neighbours Espanyol, with the two clubs competing in a bitter rivalry down the years that holds its roots in political differences.

Those differences are less pronounced now, but there is no question of diminishing tensions whenever the two sides meet on the field.

This weekend should be no different, with both sides needing maximum points to aid their respective causes as La Liga season enters its final throes.

Barca lie second in the table, a point behind leaders Atletico and two clear of Madrid, while their hosts are among a cluster of teams aiming for a top-six finish that would see them qualify for the Europa League.

Javier Aguirre's side have been inconsistent in recent weeks, with two wins, two draws and two defeats in their past six matches, although they were victorious last time out as goals from Sergio Garcia and Pizzi earned them a 2-1 win at Malaga on Tuesday.

Barca were rocked on Wednesday by the news that goalkeeper Victor Valdes has played his final game for the club after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament while making a routine save in the first half at Camp Nou.

With the Spain international having already announced he is to leave at the end of the season, it was a sad way to bow out for the keeper, and there were further concerns for Barca when Andres Iniesta was withdrawn at half-time with a niggling thigh injury.

Along with Valdes, Barca will be without Jonathan dos Santos (knee) and Isaac Cuenca (hamstring), while Carles Puyol (knee) remains doubtful.

Espanyol-Barcelona Preview: Hosts hoping to derail Blaugrana's title bid Rating: 4.5 Posted by: Unknown

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