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Mar 30, 2019 at 3.15pm UK
Barcelona
2-0
Espanyol
Messi (71', 89')
FT(HT: 0-0)
/esi/1339/6_G_1_89919/index.html?art_id=354598&game_id=89919&sport_id=1&ESI

Preview: Barcelona vs. Espanyol - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Barcelona vs. Espanyol - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole provides the team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of Barcelona's home La Liga clash with Espanyol on Saturday afternoon.
Sports Mole

Barcelona will be looking to record their sixth straight La Liga win when they welcome rivals Espanyol for the latest instalment of the Catalan derby on Saturday afternoon.

Barca are flying high at the top of the table, sitting 10 points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid. Espanyol, though, have only won one of their last five and currently sit down in 13th position.


Barcelona

Unless something extraordinary happens, Barca are going to win yet another La Liga title. Indeed, entering Week 29 in Spain's top flight, Ernesto Valverde's side have a 10-point lead over second-placed Atletico, while they are 12 points clear of third-placed Real Madrid, all on the same number of matches.

Twenty wins, six draws and two defeats - that is how Barca have performed in the league this term; they are unbeaten in their last 16 league fixtures, of which they have won 13, including a 4-1 success away to Real Betis before the international break, where Lionel Messi scored a stunning treble.

Not since February 10 have Barca failed to collect all three points in a league match, while they have beaten Real Valladolid, Sevilla, Real Madrid, Rayo Vallecano and Betis in their last five. Valverde's team have not always been excellent to watch this season, but they have managed to get the job done on the majority of occasions.

It is shaping up to be a famous season for the Catalan giants when considering that they will have the chance to play for another Copa del Rey title, with Valencia now the only team standing in their way. Another domestic double should arrive, but the Champions League is the competition that the club really wants to win.

Barca overcame Lyon in the last-16 stage of the European Cup and will travel to Manchester United for the first leg of their quarter-final tie on April 10 ahead of the return at Camp Nou one week later. There is every reason to believe that the team could challenge for the treble, but there is still a long way to go in Europe.

In terms of what is ahead - after facing Espanyol this weekend, Barca will travel to Villarreal and host Atletico in their next two league matches ahead of the trip to Old Trafford. It will certainly be interesting to see whether Valverde decides to rest a number of players in the clash with Atletico, particularly if the advantage is still around 10 points entering the game against Diego Simeone's side.

Barca have not been without their problems domestically this season, but they are comfortably the highest scorers in Spain's top flight with 73 goals. Messi has again been in wonderful form, while Luis Suarez is enjoying another strong campaign domestically, scoring 18 times in the league.

The Spanish giants have not actually lost a league game against Espanyol since February 2009, meanwhile, which is another indication of the size of the task facing the visitors to Camp Nou this weekend.

Recent form: DWWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWLWWW


Espanyol

Espanyol made a very strong start to the 2018-19 campaign, losing just two of their first 11 La Liga matches, which left them in and around the top four entering the month of November. Things have gone downhill since then, though, and they currently sit 13th in Spain's top flight.

Between November 11 and February 27, Espanyol actually lost nine of their 10 league matches, but their form has certainly picked up since the start of February, losing just once since then. Indeed, they have beaten Rayo Vallecano and Real Valladolid in two of their last seven league games, in addition to drawing with Villarreal, Valencia, Huesca and Athletic Bilbao.

Rubi's side suffered a 1-0 home defeat to Sevilla before the international break, with Wissam Ben Yedder scoring the only goal of the match in the 53rd minute. The Catalan outfit played quite well for long spells of the clash with Joaquin Caparros's team, but they could not find the back of the net.

Espanyol are not really in any relegation trouble when considering that they sit nine points clear of 18th-placed Celta Vigo. They are just three points off ninth position, meanwhile, and there is still every chance of securing a top-10 finish between now and the end of the campaign.

Espanyol's eighth-place finish from the 2016-17 season proved to be their best position since 2005. Last term, they ended the campaign in 11th and it would not be a surprise to see a similar finish this time around.

The Catalan side have had problems defensively this season, with only four teams - Huesca, Celta, Levante and Rayo Vallecano - conceding more in Spain's top flight. That is not the sort of record which will fill the supporters with confidence ahead of a trip to a team with the best attacking numbers in the league.

Espanyol conceded five unanswered goals when they last travelled to Camp Nou in the league back in September 2017, while as will be discussed below, their recent record against their rivals is very poor indeed.

The White and Blues do have a lot of talent, though, and in Borja Iglesias, they have a player who has found the back of the net on 11 occasions in 27 league appearances during the 2018-19 campaign.

Recent form: WDDWDL


Team News

Messi's return to Argentina duty did not go as planned, with the attacker picking up a groin injury in their defeat to Venezuela. The 31-year-old, however, is expected to shake off the issue to be fit this weekend.

Luis Suarez limped off against Betis last time out with an ankle injury, but the Uruguay international is now back in training and should be fit to lead the Barca attack against Espanyol.

Ousmane Dembele is still out of action with a hamstring problem, though, while Rafinha remains a long-term absentee following knee surgery.

Sergi Roberto is expected to again get the nod over Nelson Semedo at right-back, while Philippe Coutinho could be handed a spot if Valverde reverts back to a 4-3-3 formation, with Arturo Vidal dropping to the bench.

As for Espanyol, Mario Hermoso was in action for Spain during the international break and the 23-year-old will start at the heart of the away side's back four.

There will be no Sergi Darder, however, after the midfielder picked up a red card in the latter stages of his team's defeat to Sevilla before the international break.

Pablo Piatti and Sergio Garcia are both still injured, but Victor Sanchez is available following a suspension and should be named in an XI which is also expected to include January arrival Wu Lei.

Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Coutinho, L Suarez, Messi

Espanyol possible starting lineup:
Diego Lopez; Rosales, Naldo, Hermoso, Vila; Wu, V Sanchez, Roca, Granero, Perez; Iglesias


Head To Head

Barca recorded a 4-0 victory when the two teams met in the reverse league game earlier this season, while as mentioned, Valverde's side ran out 5-0 winners at Camp Nou last term.

Barca have won each of the last nine league meetings between the two teams at Camp Nou, but Espanyol did record a 2-1 victory away to their rivals in La Liga in February 2009.


We say: Barcelona 3-0 Espanyol

Espanyol have shown signs of improvement in recent weeks, but it is very difficult to back them against the runaway league leaders this weekend. We fancy the home side to triumph in routine fashion.



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La Liga Table
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Atletico MadridAtletico1815213682847
2Real Madrid19124334161840
3Barcelona19114439172237
4Sevilla19113526161036
5Villarreal2081022819934
6Real Sociedad2087531181331
7Granada208482434-1028
8Real Betis208392634-827
9Celta Vigo206682431-724
10CadizCadiz206681727-1024
11Levante195862728-123
12Getafe186571618-223
13Athletic Bilbao186392122-121
14Valencia204882629-320
15EibarEibar204881721-420
16Real Valladolid204882029-920
17Osasuna204791929-1019
18AlavesAlaves2046101829-1118
19ElcheElche183871625-917
20Huesca2011091429-1513
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1Manchester UnitedMan Utd19124336251140
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5Tottenham HotspurSpurs1896333171633
6Everton1710252821732
7West Ham UnitedWest Ham199552722532
8Aston Villa1792631181329
9Chelsea1985633231029
10Southampton188552621529
11Arsenal198382319427
12Leeds UnitedLeeds187293034-423
13Crystal Palace196582233-1123
14Wolverhampton WanderersWolves196492129-822
15Burnley185491022-1219
16Newcastle UnitedNewcastle1954101832-1419
17Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton193882229-717
18Fulham1826101527-1212
19West Bromwich AlbionWest Brom1925121543-2811
20Sheffield UnitedSheff Utd1912161032-225
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