Politics, arses and cartoon cats: it's Barcelona vs Espanyol

Lee Roden looks ahead to a largely unheralded city derby...

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BARCELONA FORM

  • Huesca 0-4 Barca (Cup)
  • Valencia 0-1 Barca (Lge)
  • APOEL 0-4 Barca (CL)
  • Barca 5-1 Sevilla (Lge)
  • Almeria 1-2 Barca (Lge)

ESPANYOL FORM

  • Alaves 0-2 Espanyol (Cup)
  • Espanyol 2-1 Levante (Lge)
  • Athletic 3-1 Espanyol (Lge)
  • Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal (Lge)
  • Elche 2-1 Espanyol (Lge)

The game Espanyol could be doing without. A 2-1 league win over Levante last weekend was their first since October 5, placing them four points above the drop. Now is not the ideal time to make the trip across Barcelona.

The lowdown

No grandiose title has been given to the Barcelona derby (not a ‘clásico’ in sight here) but hostility certainly exists between the two parties, and mistaking an Espanyol fan for a follower of Barça (or vice versa) isn’t likely to go down well. They are easily separated by two equally ridiculous nicknames: Barça supporters are Culers – literally ‘arses’ – because one of their early grounds provided an unshielded view of the posteriors of seated observers. Periquitos, the name adopted by Espanyol followers, translates as ‘parakeets’ but actually comes from a 1930s cartoon cat. Confusing? Espanyol often are.

As is this fixture. First contested in 1900, in theory it should mean more to both clubs, but the hugely disproportionate number of wins in favour of Barça (109 to Espanyol’s 41 in official competitions) means it lacks the prestige of other big city derbies.

It’s not that Espanyol don’t enjoy sticking one to their bigger neighbours – few things bring them more pleasure – but it doesn’t happen very often. The last time Els Blanc-i-Blaus (blue and whites) won at the Camp Nou was in September 2008, and even then Barça had to go and steal their thunder by claiming the treble at the end of the season.

Mexican defender Hector Moreno clobbers Neymar in last season's Camp Nou clash.

Mexican defender Hector Moreno clobbers Neymar in last season's Camp Nou clash.

While the competitive edge isn’t quite what it would be if both teams were in possession of similar resources, political friction helps to spice up the occasion. There is a common perception that Espanyol are ‘less’ Catalan than their city rivals (the name doesn’t help), and boy do Barcelona fans like to remind them of it.

Espanyol’s supporters will tell you that’s just Barça arrogance talking, and in response have adopted their own version of the Blaugrana slogan: ‘Catalunya és més que un club’. Catalonia is more than one club.

What is true is that Catalan independence isn’t as prominent a concern for Espanyol supporters as it is for Barcelona fans, or even followers of other clubs in the region.

While chants demanding independence can be heard beyond the reaches of the Camp Nou at Girona’s Montilivi stadium for example, it is highly unlikely that you will hear them at Espanyol's Cornellà home. Espanyol argue that they are a plural club, representing many political views rather than one majority opinion, but that doesn’t stop Barça fans from using it as a stick to beat them with.

Player to watch: Sergio García (Espanyol)

True quality isn’t easy to come by at Espanyol these days, but if there is one man with enough class to hurt Barça, it’s veteran forward Sergio García. The La Masia product has experienced something of a reverse Samson effect since he chopped off his ponytail last year, scoring 12 goals and assisting 9 more in 2013/14.

That’s a personal best at senior level, and led to García being voted Catalan player of the year ahead of more prominent names like Xavi and Cesc Fabregas back in November. Despite struggling with injuries this season the Espanyol captain has managed to play a part in 6 league goals, assisting 2 and scoring 4. His most recent was a brilliant winner against Levante, involving a sharp turn, quick feet and precise shot.

LAST FIVE MEETINGS

  • Barca p0-0 Espanyol (Cup, May 14)
  • Espanyol 0-1 Barca (Lge, Mar 14)
  • Barca 1-0 Espanyol (Lge, Nov 13)
  • Espanyol 1-1p Barca (Fr, May 13)
  • Espanyol 0-2 Barca (Lge, May 13)

The managers

Luis Enrique and Sergio Gonzalez are no strangers to the Barcelona derby. Both stood on opposing sides of the divide in a playing capacity on several occasions, with a cup game in February 2001 marking the last time they did so at the Camp Nou. That match ended 1-1, a result Gonzalez would probably take from this weekend if you offered it to him. In a managerial capacity they had a dress rehearsal for Sunday’s clash when the two teams squared off in the Supercopa de Catalunya in October. Barcelona won after a 1-1 draw led to penalties, but the large concentration of youth and second-string players participating for both teams means few conclusions can really be drawn. 

Luis Enrique: probably didn't pay for this car.

Luis Enrique: probably didn't pay for this car.

The two coaches have been under varying degrees of pressure this season. Enrique’s honeymoon period ended when Barça lost 3-1 to Real Madrid in October, at which point all of the people who were happy for the Blaugrana to win despite not playing well suddenly started questioning his methods.

The Asturian’s plan has become less clear as the season progresses, with key ideas like the use of narrow forwards gradually abandoned, and his side have struggled to maintain the same level of quality between one game and the next. Sergio Busquets’ late winner at the Mestalla last weekend saved his manager from a fresh assault from the critics, but failing to replicate the stylish performances produced against Sevilla and APOEL suggests all is not yet right. 

Sergio Gonzalez knows all about debates over style, with the manager’s fluctuation between three different systems leaving Espanyol fans wondering if he too has a long-term strategy. Gonzalez was hailed as Espanyol’s equivalent of Pep Guardiola when he took the job in May, following an impressive period in charge of the B team. His impact has been nothing like his compatriot’s at the Camp Nou, however, even when taking into account the obvious financial and qualitative differences between the two clubs.

Defeat against Barça on Sunday shouldn’t hurt Gonzalez too much, as next week’s home game with fellow relegation battlers Granada is the real crunch fixture of the month, but taking any kind of positive from the Camp Nou would certainly help his cause. The coach admits he is undertaking the equivalent of an ‘intensive masters degree’ in football management this season, but with Espanyol fighting the drop, they can’t afford to wait too long for him to graduate.

Facts and figures

  • Barcelona have won their last 5 derbies against Espanyol in La Liga without conceding a single goal.
  • Espanyol have not scored against Barca at the Camp Nou since Ivan De la Pena’s brace back in 2009.
  • Indeed Espanyol’s run of 5 away league games against Barcelona without scoring is their longest ever drought in this fixture.
    More FFT Stats Zone facts

FourFourTwo prediction

The Blaugrana have rarely stumbled at home this season, while Espanyol don’t travel well against the better sides. Conceding in all but one of their six away league trips doesn’t bode well for the underdogs. 2-1.

Barcelona vs Espanyol LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone