La Liga Preview: Espanyol v Barcelona

Espanyol will be out to halt the title ambitions of Barcelona as their bitter city rivals continue their hunt for a 23rd La Liga crown.

Gerardo Martino's Barca side have recovered emphatically from a surprise 1-0 defeat at Real Valladolid earlier this month, winning the following three La Liga matches.

They have scored 14 goals in the process, following up Sunday's epic 4-3 Clasico success at bitter rivals Real Madrid with a routine 3-0 home win over Celta Vigo in midweek to really ignite their title charge.

They will face a stiff test on Saturday however, against neighbours Espanyol, with the two clubs competing in a bitter rivalry down the years that holds its roots in political differences.

Those differences are less pronounced now, but there is no question of diminishing tensions whenever the two sides meet on the field.

This weekend should be no different, with both sides needing maximum points to aid their respective causes as the Liga season enters its final throes.

Barca lie second in the table, a point behind leaders Atletico Madrid and two clear of Real, while their hosts are among a cluster of teams aiming for a top-six finish that would see them qualify for the UEFA Europa League.

Javier Aguirre's side have been inconsistent in recent weeks, with two wins, two draws and two defeats in their past six matches, although they were victorious last time out as goals from Sergio Garcia and Pizzi earned them a 2-1 win at Malaga on Tuesday.

Head coach Aguirre believes that luck was on their side in that game, and he is hoping Saturday's derby can inspire his charges to a strong finish to the campaign.

"We have to go and try to win," he said. "Our team is strong and healthy. Each of our last eight games is a final."

Barca were rocked on Wednesday by the news that goalkeeper Victor Valdes has played his final game for the club after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament while making a routine save in the first half at Camp Nou.

With the Spain international having already announced he is to leave at the end of the season, it was a sad way to bow out for the keeper, and there were further concerns for Barca when Andres Iniesta was withdrawn at half-time with a niggling thigh injury.

However, the diminutive midfielder insisted on Thursday that it was not a serious problem and that he would be fit for the weekend, before echoing the sentiments of Aguirre.

"I sensed some minor pain, but I should be fine by tomorrow and perfect by Saturday," he told the club's official website.

"These are always very special matches and the situation in the league makes it more important than ever. We'll go there hoping to win, but aware that it won't be easy.

"We are back in contention for the league title, and I think we deserve to be, on our own merit. Now every game is like a final."

Along with Valdes, Barca will be without Jonathan dos Santos (knee) and Isaac Cuenca (hamstring), while Carles Puyol (knee) remains doubtful.