The Long Road to Survival and Championships: Barcelona – Espanyol

The holidays are, for me, often a time when I sit on my couch and relax. I also eat as many M&Ms as I can fit into my face. It’s a Christmas Day tradition. This means that by the time La Liga restarts, I’m a good 5-10 seconds slower on the 100 meter dash than I was the last time Barça played. Let’s hope that the team hasn’t been so gluttonous. No doubt some of you have been bingeing on transfer gossip instead. I can’t say I participated in that particular orgy of nonsense this year, so whatever David Villa’s final destination (perhaps it’s even Barça?) or where Isaac Cuenca will end up on loan (nowhere?), I can’t say I’ve kept up. I prefer to pick out the red and blue M&Ms and randomly sing the Barça anthem while my wife takes deep breaths and fights the urge to google “divorce lawyer”.

Usually I return sluggishly to La Liga, unsure of what matters anymore, but this time around there’s something a bit spicier than your average meatball: an intercity rivalry showdown. A Derbi Barceloní, if you will. A fight to the death inside a steel cage filled with hammers and terrible haircuts. This is the real deal. Given that Espanyol recently gifted us a Hannukah present on December 16 with a 2-2 draw against Real Madrid, some might think I’d be going into this a little softer of heart, but those people would be fools. It should be noted, however, that I’m also not the type of guy who roots for Espanyol to remain in the top flight so that we can have these little hoohaws. Call me callous, competitive, or just downright jerkish. I call it rivalry time.

Here’s the thing: this match means so much more than just 3 points, local bragging rights, or another day on the schedule. With Tito Vilanova returning from a recent cancer relapse, this match will be both emotionally intense as well as cathartic. Jordi Roura has confirmed Tito will be on the bench against Espanyol, which is just, well, amazing. I’m not much for discussing the personal lives of players, at least not the aspects I consider to be private (babies, divorces, weddings, illnesses), but I am happy to celebrate returns from adversity. It was wonderful to see David Villa come back from a broken leg, so it is so much more amazing to see Tito return (again) from a cancer-related absence. I wish him and his family the absolute best. I just hope that he is not returning out of a sense of duty when he’s not ready to be back.

Along those same lines, Eric Abidal is now training with more regularity, though he did not take part in the most recent full practice. Having Abidal back would be an absolutely amazing thing, but again, what is most important is his long term health rather than a single glorious emotional explosion when he makes an early return and is subsequently sidelined forever. If he can’t play at the highest level, give him a minute at the end of a match to soak up the applause and then let him retire into the limelight. His new friend Snoop can play FIFA with him or something.

Isaac Cuenca’s road to recovery is still long and windy, but he’s getting there. Rumors abound about his potential exit on loan (again–perhaps to Sabadell?), but he needs to gain full fitness before the team considers sending him out. This may seem counter-intuitive, but being able to see what he’s capable of in practice is the best way to understand where he is physically rather than watching him in someone else’s system. There’s also no sense in rushing the kid back given his age (21) and the current lead over 2nd place Atleti (9 points).

And so, this is Espanyol visiting the Camp Nou where they were thrashed 4-0 in an emotional game last year. In fact, Espanyol has not won since their visit to the Camp Nou in 2008-09 when they came out 1-2 winners. If you remember that match, it was Keita’s phantom red card that turned things on their head. I certainly remember it. I was in the basement of Nevada Smiths in Manhattan watching with friends who had never been to a Barcelona game before. I was surprisingly calm for someone losing to a serious rival. Tomorrow will not involve calm, if the seasons since 08-09 are any indication…maybe it’s the M&Ms?

Adriano is back after missing some practice with a contusion, Cesc has recovered from his injury, and the squad is suddenly looking like it’s got some depth. On the other side of the ball, Espanyol is only missing Wakaso Mubarak, who is with the Ghanaian national team. They are, at least, getting Cristian Gómez back from injury. Their squad is:

Raúl Rodríguez, Víctor Sánchez, Forlín, Baena, Stuani, Sergio García, Verdú, Kiko Casilla, Héctor Moreno, Javi López, Albín, Capdevila, Colotto, Simao, Cristian Gómez, Christian Alfonso, Víctor Álvarez, and Germán. [Source]

I don’t want to act like Espanyol doesn’t have a chance–they went into the Bernabeu and came away with a point, after all–but they’re sitting in 18th place with just 15 points after 17 matches. Yes, they haven’t lost since an 0-2 home defeat to Getafe on November 25, but they’ve also only won once (2-0 against Depor, one of the only teams below them). They’ve only scored 8 goals in 8 road games while Barça has only allowed 7 in 8 home matches. Espanyol has allowed 11 road goals while Barça has scored 25 home goals.

They hired WHO!?

There’s also this matter of Javier Aguirre. A man who was fired from Atleti and Real Zaragoza and was also in charge of what can only be described as a baffling World Cup by Mexico in 2010 is hardly the savior that Espanyol hopes he will be, but he is also hardly the schlub commentators (such as yours truly) make him out to be. Yes, he picked Guille Franco (!) and Bofo Bautista (!!) for the World Cup while leaving out Jonathan dos Santos, but he was instrumental in moving Osasuna from relegation-threatened to Champions League qualifying between 2002 and 2006.  He didn’t stick around to test the waters of that competition, though, preferring a move to Atletico Madrid. There, he managed to finish 7th and 4th in his 2 full seasons. This time, he participated in the Champions League, guiding the team to the Round of 16 where they were eliminated by Porto. Then the team went on a veritable tear of horrible play and Aguirre was sacked. It’s hard to say he was terrible, but Aguirre is hardly the type of coach that inspires confidence in a fanbase. He almost invites unfair criticism because he never really responds to it in any meaningful way, but nor does he ignore it completely.

Given all that, they appointed Aguirre on November 28, 3 days after what has turned out to be their last loss. Obviously that’s a good record, but can it stand? Their draw at the Bernabeu is probably the most impressive of their 4 subsequent results, but their draw with Sevilla is at once an unlucky result (91st minute goal to tie it by Negredo) and a terrible result (played against 10 men for 52 minutes). It’s these sorts of games that define teams and Espanyol appears to have defined itself as a team that can (sort of) compete. This may or may not hold up throughout the year, but I do expect them to survive into next season in the first division.

So, the game itself? Official Prediction: 3-1. Goals by Messi (2) and Xavi. Going into the Camp Nou on a derby day of such abnormally high emotion will not work out for Espanyol.  A team in the relegation zone against a team destroying the competition? Seems a nobrainer and I think it will be.


The last time we played Espanyol.

Image sources: here and here

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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.


  1. January 5, 2013

    I just hope that he is not returning out of a sense of duty when he’s not ready to be back.

    Tito hasn’t started chemotherapy & radiation yet, so he probably wants to spend as much time on the job as he can before he starts feeling really crappy. He looked good overseeing today’s training.

    I’m not a fan of Javi Aguierre, but Espanyol has definitely improved since they hired him. Might just be a case of a new broom sweeping clean, but they will surely be on a high after their result against RM.

    It’s going to be hard to watch tomorrow’s game without thinking of the last time we played Espanyol. I’m a bit verklempt.

    • January 5, 2013

      Fair point about Tito. I hadn’t really considered when he would start chemo/radiation. What matters is that he does what makes him healthiest at this time. Wearing yourself down can be a bad idea, after all.

      About blue M&Ms: there is no such thing as a bad M&M.

      • barca96
        January 6, 2013

        Have you tried the Pretzel M&M’s? We found it in Singapore. A bit odd at first but I like it somehow.

  2. January 5, 2013

    And also? Blue M&M’s are an abomination unto the Lord. Shame on you.

  3. yana
    January 5, 2013

    “…and randomly sing the Barça anthem…”

    A funny from the other week: I have a habit of humming under my breath, without even realizing I am doing it. Usually so softly that people with me can’t tell what exactly I am humming — my husband will ask, “what are you humming?” and I won’t know that I was humming at all until he asked, much less what song. Every so often it has been loud enough that my husband has identified the movie score to “The Dark Knight Rises” and other soundtracks.

    The other night as we were walking back to our car after dinner, he suddenly sing-songs, “Barça, Barça, Baaaarrrrr-ça!”

    I give him a look, uh, What? He shrugs back at me, “Well, isn’t that how the song goes? The one you’re humming?” Jajaja, apparently I subconsciously hum the Barça himno when I’m happy.

    Blaugrana al vent, un crit valent, tenim un nom el sap tothom, Barça, Barça, Baaarça!

  4. nia
    January 6, 2013

    Happy new year to all. Glad the liga is back on 🙂

    It’s mind boggling seeing soo many Blaugrana players fit for a change. All of a sudden, it seems like the team has too many players and don’t know what to do with them. Once Abi, Cuenca and Muniesa come back, we’ll celebrate like it’s xmas all over again. Good thing is that it seems as if Tito has a better rotation system than Pep.

    Hope the boys continue with the good results and would like to see Pedro score a goal or two. Can’t take Espanyol lightly though, as we all know, they’ve cost us a point or two and usually play out of their skins against us(except for last yr). That said, i bet my bottom dollar that, they will come and park the bus. Infact, a double decker one and try to get us on the counter.
    Hope Barca can thank them with a few goals for the miracle they pulled at the Bernabeu 😉

    Also, i would like to see Villa get some action and if he does, hope to see him play well so we don’t lose him in this transfer window as i think his goal scoring skills will come in handy later on in all three competitions.

    One last thing, hope Alexis doesn’t go down more than 8 times tommorow.(that should have been his new years resolution, try to stay up on his feet).

  5. Messiah10
    January 6, 2013

    Game Time for U.S. fans is 12:55 Eastern Time. A bit earlier than usual, but not the earliest of the year. I’m excited. I’ve been craving Barca footie for over 2 weeks now! I hate Winter breaks, but do think they’re necessary for the good of the players health. I’ve had to resort to EPL games and those are so technically inefficient they are hard to watch. Although, I just finished a fun game that was Swansea vs Arsenal FA Cup. 2-2 with most goals coming in the 2nd half. I only caught 2nd half so maybe the 1st was boring, but the 2nd was crazy exciting.
    I don’t see any hiccups today. We may be a little slow out of the gate because of the Winter break, but by half time we’ll have found our groove and slice through Espanyol’s defense as if it were soft butter. 🙂

  6. Blau-Grenade
    January 6, 2013

    Possible Lineup for Barcelona – Barcastuff

    Alves Pique Puyol Alba
    Xavi Busi Cesc
    Pedro Messi Iniesta

    Let’s see if the actual lineups match this guys lineup.

  7. nzm
    January 6, 2013

    Well, well. Iker on the bench and Cristiano is captain.

    Red card for Adan and now Casillas has to come on!!!!

    • Richzorz
      January 6, 2013

      Couldn’t have written a better storyline!!

    • Ryan
      January 6, 2013

      It’s truly madness, isn’t it? Luckily, we didn’t have to see a San Iker moment by him saving the PK, but he very nearly let in a 2nd goal by passing straight to Real Sociedad!

    • Blau-Grenade
      January 6, 2013

      Well well, nothing is going according to plan with Mourinho. Who would have expected.

  8. January 6, 2013

    As they’re saying in Twitterland: Adan kept a clean sheet, hence Adan > Casillas

    • Ryan
      January 6, 2013

      And as it’s saying on the scoreboard: 2-2!

  9. G6O
    January 6, 2013

    At this point, I am not even sure whether I want them to drop more points – this may force them to kick Mourinho out earlier than planned and then they might start playing well in the CL.

    • nzm
      January 6, 2013

      Perez will not be wanting to pay Mourinho’s early termination fee which is in the high millions, and then who is available to take over? Will Perez do a Rosell and let Karanka do it? Highly unlikely.

      On the other hand, the fans might just force the issue too. Bernabeu is rather empty on this holiday Sunday, but then Kings’ Day could be making a dent in the numbers with people having family commitments to fulfill.

      Rumours are that Mourinho is trying to make an exit happen, but then they are just rumours until substantiated. He’s also saying that he will stay to win the Decima CL with RM, so no one really knows except Mourinho, I guess.

  10. Jim
    January 6, 2013

    Pretty poor display from Sociedad overall. Rotten defending, dodgy keeper and not much heart about them as a team.

    • Jim
      January 6, 2013

      Mind you, RM’s defending isn’t much better as Sociedad score a third 🙂

    • nzm
      January 6, 2013

      Seriously? I thought that they were playing very well – certainly did in the first half before fatigue kicked in. Possession rates are pretty decent too, but then Madrid lets the opposition keep position and then pings them with quick counters.

      They’re holding their own against one of the best teams in the world. They just need a taller GK!

      • Jim
        January 6, 2013

        Pretty easy to have good possession stats against 10 men when you’ve no real enthusiasm forgoing forward, though.

        Their work rate actually went down for me when they got the extra man. They won’t get mny opportunities like this at the SB. Where was the enthusiasm?

  11. Jafri
    January 6, 2013

    Starting XI – full strength team!

    Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Pique, Puyol, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Cesc; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta

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