The Little Twerps and Us: Espanyol-Barca

Liga Preview: Espanyol – Barcelona, Sunday 3:30pm ET, GolTV

It’s easy to treat them like a little brother. They’re sort of poor and tiny and during college they once slept on our floor for a week before heading to the New Mexico desert to “find themselves” which we both knew meant take peyote and sit in a sweat lodge playing a didgeridoo. Yet they returned, again, a few years ago, sure of themselves and only a slight blip in 2009-10 nearly sent them back down to the hinterlands for more “spirit journeys” alongside our actual little brothers in La Masia. You see, Espanyol is just the neighbor’s kid we had to play with a lot because our parents were friends so we might as well get along with them enough to not spit in each other’s faces at the dinner table during those long conversations about “the state of things” or “that one kid’s parents are such screwups; my kids would never think they could do such things.” Adults are boring.

“Big brother” is having a good couple of weeks, having gone on a vacation to Japan that everyone seems to think was just the bee’s knees and having wrecked the bully from down the block’s perfect pair of white trousers while beating him in a foot race (at the end of which he fell into a mud puddle). Because of all that, Little Brother is probably thinking it’s high time to ruin the stupid party next door that has kept him up late at night the last few years.

They’ve ruined our party before, in much more dramatic fashion, and I’m sure they’re still reveling in it, but that wouldn’t diminish their joy at not only securing 3 points, but pushing the league trophy all the closer to Madrid’s grasping tentacles. Classic little brother syndrome (and this writer is one himself) merely needs someone other than Big Stupid Brother winning to feel vindicated. After all, when the budgets of the two are compared, there’s a gulf you couldn’t fill with palm tree islands or even the black liquidy stuff underneath them.

Still, as they say, form goes out the window in rivalries. Both teams, though, are playing decently enough over the last couple of league matches. Espanyol lost to Cordoba in the Copa del Rey first leg 2-1, a score that is by no means a disaster given the away goal (something that could be extremely crucial in the end), but which suggest weakness in Espanyol. Yet the match was 0-1 in Espanyol’s favor until the 80th minute, so it’s not as if Cordoba blew them out of the water.

They’re still Barcelona Light at best and even that has probably been taken over by the canteranos. They’re more like the Beast Ice to our Dogfish Immort Ale. I suppose if we’re talking real deal beer snobbery, I should say we’re the Inedit of this shindig and they’re the, uh, Glops. Perhaps they’re pretty good, but no one has ever heard of them, so whatever. And yeah, Glops is made in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, which is right next door to Cornella de Llobregat.

Espanyol comes in on a 2 match winning streak and in 8th place in the table. They beat Atleti and Sporting Gijon, having previously lost to Osasuna and Valencia. Before that they drew twice, with Villarreal and Real Sociedad. All of that is to say that they haven’t done anything other than lose to anyone above them in the table, but they’ve lost only twice to other teams. So, basically, yeah, they seem screwed. At home they lost to Osasuna (1-2) and Real Madrid (0-4). Only 7 teams have a worse goal-scoring record. Only 6 teams have allowed fewer goals, though. That’s the perennial story of Espanyol. They’ve only failed to score four times, and also have 6 clean sheets (2 are 0-0 draws). The 4 others were 1-0 (or 0-1) wins. They’re top scorer with 5 is Sergio Garcia. Barcelona’s top scorer (no prizes for guessing who) has as many goals as Espanyol’s entire team (17). They’re just so predictably mediocre, yet also sitting near European spots. Nunca cambies, La Liga.

More importantly than any of that, though, is Iniesta’s return to the squad. He’s been cleared to play and took part in the open training session the other day. Good to see the little ghost magician back. Sure, we haven’t missed him in one sense, but you know we’ve all missed him and his Laudrupian croquetas. If you haven’t missed him, you’re banished from the land. Or at least relegated to the BFB nosebleeds.

With his return is coupled the full return of Alexis Sanchez, who, though he played against Osasuna in the Copa, is still at the tail-end of a recovery. Everyone except Afellay and Villa were available for the latest training session along with the ever-present Isaac Cuenca. That leaves a few good options for the match, especially since the Osasuna second leg is all but over already and it’s likely a couple of B team players will make the starting lineup for that one.

Predicted Lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Thiago, Messi, Pedro.

I think Alexis and Iniesta start on the bench (and what a bench!) alongside Cuenca, Fontas, Mascherano, and Pinto. Or however many spots there are available for league matches. I don’t know. 5? 7? No one could possibly know such inane details. What’s more, keeping Alexis and Don Andres on the bench provides a lot of versatility if things aren’t working out or straight replacements if they are and someone gets tired.

Official Prediction: 1-3, Barca comes out of this one unscathed, though perhaps with a few rough moments, especially early on when Espanyol pressures hard.

Don’t forget, you can follow the new me on Twitter, but I won’t be talking about Barca there very much (or perhaps ever, it’s unclear at the moment). I’m RockofThune and so far I’ve retweeted myself and talked about dolphin sex. So there’s that. And no, you’re not allowed to know why that is my handle. I’ll still be operating this site’s Twitter Mobile, but some of my political and random comments will go up on the other one. Barca news and opinions, live tweeting, and various other football-related stuff will go on under the BFB account. TweetDeck be praised!

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


    • mega_tajh
      January 8, 2012

      He’s recovering quite quickly isn’t he.

  1. andrecito
    January 8, 2012

    great read isaiah..does anybody have download links to the club world cup final? thanks…

  2. nzm
    January 8, 2012

    Re: the Copa Cordoba vs. Espanyol match.

    Espanyol was reduced to 10 men around the 50th minute when GK Casilla was sent off for a rather stupid tackle. Subkeeper Alvarez blocked the penalty, but Espanyol couldn’t hang on in the face of a newly energised Cordoba who played their hearts out to win.

    It will be interesting to watch. The Barcelona derby games are more unpredictable than the Barca vs. Madrid games.

    At the end of last season, Espanyol lost captain Luis Garcia to Zaragoza, Osvaldo to AS Roma and Callejon to Real Madrid.

    GK Kameni did trial for AS Roma but came slinking back into town and is still listed as the #1 GK, but has so far only played 1 match against Mallorca early in the season.

    I think that Garcia and Verdú will be the men to watch, if they’re selected.

    We need an early goal – and Messi needs to be calm. He’ll be determined to score, as Cornellà-El Prat is one of the pitches on which he remains scoreless, after that uncharacteristic miss in last season’s 1-5 game:

    • BTTFCule
      January 8, 2012

      To be fair it was one of his best games of the season besides EE manita and CL final. He did finish off the pericos in that game without scoring one of the many facts that makes him a Ballon Dor candidate in my opinion!

  3. nzm
    January 8, 2012

    BTW – as my Open Practice report hasn’t been published, and will most likely get lost/outdated with Espanyol match analysis and Balon D’Or reports, here’s a link to the images that I took:

    Feel free to download for personal use only!

    In this case, the camera does lie. A good zoom lens (and some prudent image cropping) produced results that were far better than what we could actually see!

      • Jafri
        January 8, 2012

        Amazing pictures – it looks like you were actually down on the pitch with them!!!

    • blitzen
      January 8, 2012

      These pics are fantastic, Michele! Maybe you should see if you can get a job with the club as official photographer!

    • ooga aga
      January 8, 2012

      the camera doesnt lie. you are awesome.

    • nzm
      January 8, 2012

      Thanks, gang!

      blitzen – now wouldn’t that be a dream job, except for having to take pics of Rosell and his cronies!

  4. Ryan
    January 8, 2012

    Anyone watching the Valencia derby? Villarreal are looking like the team of old!

    • January 8, 2012

      Cracking game, isn’t it? When in doubt, hire your B-team coach! Their passing has been crisp and wonderful to watch. Hopefully, they’ll be on the up after this.

      • Ryan
        January 8, 2012

        Definitely! Valencia probably deserved the 1 point they got, but it was nice to see Villarreal playing better than they have this season.

  5. nzm
    January 8, 2012

    Barca TV announced tonight’s team as:

    VV, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal
    Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
    Alexis, Messi, Cesc

    • Dani_el
      January 8, 2012

      I was about to post it, thanks! Pep means no funny business.

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