Barca vs Espanyol: Club football resumes at last for FC Barcelona, with their very first challenge back being local rivals RCD Espanyol, who travel to Camp Nou on the 31st of December to face La Blaugrana.
FC Barcelona vs Espanyol: Match Details
Date: Saturday, 31st December 2022
Competition: La Liga Santander
Match Day: 15
Venue: Spotify Camp Nou
Time: 02:00 pm Central European Time (Barcelona)
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz
FC Barcelona vs Espanyol: Match Overview
FC Barcelona went into the International Break for the FIFA World Cup 2022 as league leaders in La Liga, having accumulated a total of 37 points from 14 matches thus far. Heading into this local derby against Espanyol, they will be hoping to build on that lead at the top of the table and continue their surge towards the La Liga title.
Their opponents, also from the city of Barcelona, currently sit at 16th position in the league, having a total of only 12 points from 14 games thus far. They have managed to score 16 goals in the league as of matchday 14, but have ended up conceding a superior tally of 22, giving them an overall goal difference of -6.
In their last 5 games played in La Liga, Espanyol have lost 2 games and managed to draw the other 3. On the other hand, La Blaugrana have managed a perfect 5 wins out of the previous 5 matches played and will be hoping to ride on this momentum to take them past Espanyol as well.
A major cause of worry, however, is that FC Barcelona will be without their talisman in front of goal, Robert Lewandowski. The Pole is currently facing a 3 match-suspension due to an incident that occurred in Barcelona’s last game against Osasuna before the World Cup kicked off, where a dispute between the Barcelona striker and the referee led to the latter reporting the player for disrespectful behavior.
Appealed by Barcelona to reduce the severity of the suspension, but due to no avail, Lewandowski remains unavailable for selection for at least 3 games. Recent reports from Spain suggest that it may be youngster Ansu Fati who ends up replacing the veteran striker for Barcelona as their primary number 9 in the latter’s absence.
Regardless of form, however, Espanyol have remained a tricky opponent for FC Barcelona in recent years whenever the two have faced one another, and it will surely be a test of Xavi’s own adaptability in terms of tactical approach and the choice of players he decides to field against their city rivals.
FC Barcelona vs Espanyol: Potential Line-up
Goalkeeper: Ter Stegen
Having had no minutes whatsoever in the FIFA World Cup, Ter Stegen had to remain second fiddle to Manuel Neuer, the latter remained number 1 for Germany as the nation crashed out of the tournament in the group stages. Ter Stegen will surely be the primary starter for the Catalans however and will be sure to start against Espanyol.
Left-Back: Jordi Alba
The veteran provides both quality and experience along that left side of the defense, and as he was shown to be a pivotal piece of Luis Enrique’s system in the Spanish National Team, he might just find himself back as one in Xavi’s plans as well following his solid performances for Spain.
Centre-Back: Jules Kounde
After a World Cup final to forget for the Frenchman, Kounde will be looking to recover himself in time for when his club needs him. Impressive at the right-back role throughout the World Cup as he was for Barcelona not too long ago as well, he might just start at his preferred position as a Centre-back due to Araujo potentially not starting just yet.
Centre-Back: Andreas Christensen
As Araujo is not available to start, it seems almost guaranteed for Christensen to slot in alongside Jules Kounde. The standout performer for Denmark at the World stage, Christensen will be hoping to take his fine form back to his club matches as well.
Right-Back: Alejandro Balde
The youngster continues to impress, and managed to do so for Spain in the little cameos he was granted at the international stage. More match time will surely lead to an improvement overall, and he still seems to be Barcelona’s best full-back as of right now alongside Jules Kounde. Despite being played out of position as a right back, Balde has accustomed himself more and more to the role, providing solid displays in the position prior to the World Cup.
CDM: Sergio Busquets
Praised and applauded heavily by Luis Enrique while he was with the Spanish National Team, and as his performances speak for themselves if looked past his crucial missed penalty against Morocco, he may just find himself back in Xavi’s plan against Espanyol.
CM: Frenkie De Jong
Still, quite the maestro in commandeering midfield and at times even looked to be the only one doing it for the Netherlands, Frenkie De Jong is a valuable asset for La Blaugrana, one that is, if reports are to be believed, now considered untouchable for those outside.
One for the future and one for the present, Pedri is fundamental to Barcelona’s revitalization as both a team and a philosophy, and very much so proved to be a perfect fit for Enrique’s Spain as well. He will be crucial against Espanyol come the 31st of December.
Left-Winger: Ferran Torres
Smart and precise with his movements, Ferran Torres has been very efficient as an enabler for those around him. His intelligence off the ball could prove to be pivotal in allowing the other forwards to shine against Espanyol.
Centre-Forward: Ansu Fati
Almost every report thus far regarding the topic of Lewandowski’s potential substitute for the time being point to Barcelona’s number 10 having to fill the void at the central striker position, and this provides the youngster an adequate opportunity to find his own best form as well.
Right-Winger: Ousmane Dembele
Regardless of his slip-up in the World Cup final, Ousmane Dembele is a lethal weapon at Xavi’s disposal and has the ability to conjure up moments of magic when he’s at his best, something Xavi has gradually managed to extract from him on a more regular basis than ever before.
FC Barcelona vs Espanyol: Expected Line-up
Goalkeeper: Ter Stegen
Defenders: Bellerin, Kounde, Christensen, Balde
Midfielders: De Jong, Busquets, Pedri
Forwards: Dembele, Fati, Torres