Espanyol vs Barcelona: Preview

Saturday, December 18, 2010
Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes sees tomorrow's Catalan derby at Espanyol as one of the most difficult games of the season.

Barca have won all of their away matches in the Primera Division so far this term and have dropped only five points in total, but Espanyol boast a flawless record at Cornella this season and usually do well in this fixture.

"It's one of the most difficult and complicated games of the year, just as it has been in previous years," the goalkeeper said.

"We expect it to be very intense and very difficult, but we are very motivated and we are going there to win."

Espanyol and Barcelona drew 0-0 in last season's meeting at Cornella - the first between the two sides at the former's new stadium.

That result gave Real Madrid hope of catching their biggest rivals in the run-in, but Barca held on to win a second consecutive Primera Division title under Pep Guardiola.

Espanyol were fighting to stay up at the time, but Mauricio Pochettino's side are currently in fourth place following a hugely impressive start to the current campaign.

"They have improved in a lot of things," Valdes said.

"They pressure really well, and they improved a lot tactically.

"They play good football - much better than before."

And Valdes says the hostile atmosphere at Cornella will represent an extra motivation for the Barcelona players.

"I'm expecting an intense atmosphere - it will be a special game to play in," he said.

"When you go to an intense ground, it's an extra motivation to keep going and to win the game."

With 15 rounds of the Primera Division completed, Barca lead the table with 40 points, two more than fierce rivals Madrid.

Meanwhile, Guardiola's side are set to face Arsenal in the last 16 of the Champions League after today's draw in Switzerland.

Barca beat Arsene Wenger's side 6-3 on aggregate in the quarter-finals of last season's competition, with Lionel Messi memorably scoring four in the second leg at the Nou Camp.

Messi was spotted Christmas shopping in Milan with his family earlier this week, but was back training with Barca ahead of tomorrow's game against Espanyol.

The Argentina winger, who scored a late penalty to win the last ever meeting between the two sides at Espanyol's former ground Montjuic two years ago, has scored an incredible 17 goals in the league this term.

Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino says his compatriot is the best player in the world and believes Barca to be one of the greatest sides in the history of the game.

"Messi is the best at the moment, just like (Diego) Maradona and Pele were in their day," he said.

"And Barca, statistically, are one of the best two or three teams in history - perhaps even the best."

Ivan de la Pena, Ernesto Galan and Felipe Mattioni remain sidelined for Espanyol, while Manu Molina and Javi Lopez are doubtful.

Gabi Milito and Jeffren Suarez are both doubtful for Barca.


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