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.
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