After a nearly 2-month break from club football, Barcelona returns to the pitch on the last day of 2022. To end the calendar year on a high, Xavi’s men will surely look to please the Camp Nou faithful with a victory over local rivals Espanyol in the derby of the Catalan capital.
Barca News Network brings you 4 key talking points ahead of the Derbi barceloní in the 15th game week of La Liga.
1. World Cup aftermath:
Initially, the World Cup was deemed as a huge potential obstacle in Barcelona’s campaign as the Blaugrana sent a record of 17 internationals to Qatar, under 7 nations’ badge. Given that these players form the cornerstone of the team, a general fatigue caused by the strained calendar was believed to hinder the Catalans in the following part of the season.
Thankfully (from the club’s standpoint), just a few players remained in the chase for the trophy in the latter stages of the tournament. Just our French duo, Koundé and Dembélé played all the 7 games, Brazil and the Netherlands were eliminated in the quarters, Spain and Poland fell out in the round of 16, while Germany and Uruguay didn’t even get through the groups.
Thus, many players could enjoy an unexpectedly long rest, plus the two weeks between the final and the first league match also helped them to recover and focus on what comes ahead. In consequence, for the first time since his appointment, Xavi now has zero players unavailable due to injuries, which really eases the coach’s job.
2. The Lewandowski case:
In the 30′ minutes of the game against Osasuna, Robert Lewandowski was sent off with a second yellow card by referee Gil Manzano. The decision was questionable and given it was around one-third of the game, it could cause a lot of issues for Barcelona, especially since Osasuna was still leading at the moment. Thankfully, though, even with just 10 men on the pitch, the Blaugrana managed to turn the score around by the end of the match, claiming all the 3 points in Pamplona.
However, when the Pole left the pitch angrily after receiving his red card, he showed some controversial gestures that were deemed as a sign of disrespect, therefore handing him a 3-match suspension. Barcelona stated from the first minute that they will appeal against the decision, but their first attempt was rejected, and it seemed that the veteran star will really miss the city Derby against Espanyol.
However, just a few days before the game, the club’s efforts bore fruit as the court of disputes temporarily lifted the ban from Lewandowski until the final decision on the case.
This made him eligible to play against Espanyol today, but as Xavi Hernández also claimed: “Being able to have him is great news, but knowing it a day before the game when you have been training to prepare to play without him is not the best timing for us”. Nevertheless, the player is expected to play despite the initial plans.
3. Ansu Fati: what now?
If there is one player who could have benefitted from Lewandowski’s suspension then it’s Ansu Fati. The young titan, since returning from his horrific injury, has still not become a starter despite reportedly playing on full fitness for some time now. Even in Qatar, he played very few minutes after being surprisingly called up by Luis Enrique.
This game could have been a perfect opportunity for him to prove himself and earn a place among the starters in Lewandowski’s absence. Thus, instead of playing assumably with Ferrán Torres in the starting lineup, he has to compete with him for the left-wing spot as Lewandowski is a too great option to leave out of the lineup if not for some serious reasons.
All in all, the concerns around the young Spaniard’s development have not yet been dissolved but hopefully, this post-World Cup period will help him to find his best form and return to the glorious path he was predestined to before the injuries set back his development trajectory.
4. Fierce rivalry:
Last but not least, we cannot proceed without highlighting the rivalry between the two sides of Barcelona. Like many of the old rivalries, El Derbi has its roots based in the national opposition during the Spanish dictatorship, further boosted by the same location of the two. While Barcelona represented oppressed Catalonia, Espanyol, as its name shows, was founded by strictly just Spanish people and resonated rather with the central authority.
However, unlike most of the other derbies of Spanish football, this one is quite a one-sided affair. Without any intent of disrespect towards Espanyol, Barcelona is historically the better side, dominating the derby with 125 wins against the 44 of Espanyol, besides 45 draws.
Of course, Espanyol can still cause difficulties even against the odds, as they did in the middle of Barcelona’s incredible unbeaten run last season too, with a close, struggling 2-2 secured by a last-gasp Luuk de Jong header.
In conclusion, despite all the odds turning towards Barcelona, especially taking into account this season’s form as Espanyol currently is close to the relegation zone while the Blaugrana tops the table, a motivated, tenacious side can always cause difficulties. Nevertheless, we wish this time they won’t. Forca Barça.