Over the past five years almost no teams have managed to take points off of Pep Guardiola's FC Barcelona. The greatest sides in the world have tried, and failed, to beat (or even draw) los culés. Tonight, Pep's "Dream Team" travels to one of the few destinations where they have been historically mediocre, to play against the one team that has managed to take points off of them in recent years. Since Guardiola took the reigns at Barcelona, no team has taken more points off of Leo Messi and company than their cross-city rivals, RCD Espanyol.
Sure, Espanyol lost 1-5 last season (and they haven't beaten their big brothers during this same time frame), but they have managed some very important accomplishments: first, Leo Messi has never scored at Cornellà (though we all know that will eventually change, and probably tonight), and secondly, Espanyol's heroics cost Barcelona the Liga during the 2006-2007 season. That year, los pericos were pushed on by a deep sense of pride, something that has characterized their clashes with Barcelona: this is, after all, a derby match.
Yet, despite all the hemming and hawing many pundits have resorted to in describing this match (myself included), we're probably going to see a pretty lopsided Barcelona victory. Ever since defeating Real Madrid in the first clásico of the year, los culés have been on an absolute roll (including their utter destruction of Osasuna just this week). Leo Messi and Cesc Fàbregas have been the architects of the success recently, and I'm sure you've already heard from, like, every journalist in Spain that they played on the same youth team together.
Ultimately, this game is going to come down to some combination of pride (on Espanyol's part) and desire (on Barça's part): if Espanyol can play up the "let's win the derby!" angle with the crowd, and if Barcelona come out flat and don't seem to want the match, then Espanyol might be able to pull out a draw. If Barça put some effort into their performance, as I expect they will, then this should be a pretty easy game for them. Sorry, pericos.
Espanyol vs. Barcelona
Game Date/Time: Sunday, Jan. 8, 3:30 p.m. ET, 9:30 p.m. local
Venue: Estadi Cornella-El Prat, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
TV: GolTV (USA and Canada), Sky Sports 1 (UK)
For more on the Cules, check out FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes.