Sports Mole previews Saturday’s La Liga clash between Barcelona and Espanyol, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
The era of Xavi‘s management of Barcelona will kick off on Saturday, as the Blaugrana welcome Espanyol to the Camp Nou.
The Barca legend will be tasked with lifting the side up the La Liga table, after Ronald Koeman was sacked with the Catalan giants sitting ninth.
Barcelona had a difficult start to the 2021-22 season under Ronald Koeman, winning just four of their opening 12 La Liga games and collecting 17 points.
They have now failed to win any of the last four league outings, having firstly lost in El Clasico against Real Madrid and fallen to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of newly-promoted Rayo Vallecano, before playing out disappointing draws with strugglers Alaves and an underperforming Celta Vigo side.
The latter held Barca to a point in dramatic fashion after trailing 3-0, with Iago Aspas netting a 96th-minute equalizer after he previously got on the scoresheet alongside Nolitofollowing goals from Ansu Fati, Sergio Busquets and Memphis Depay.
Such a run saw the Dutchman dismissed, and he has been replaced by former Al Sadd boss Xavi, who last played for the Blaugrana in 2015, having made 505 appearances in midfield, winning eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues in a 17-year spell.
The club legend will now hope to inspire a wounded Barca side up the table, with the Catalan giants winning just five of their last 15 games in all competitions, having also suffered thrashings at the hands of Bayern Munich and Benfica in the Champions League group stage .
In their bid to reverse their fortunes, Barcelona welcome a newly-promoted Espanyol side who sit level on points with the 26-time La Liga champions.
Since their promotion from the second tier last term, Saturday’s visitors have adjusted to life back in the top flight in impressive fashion, despite a difficult start with their first five games producing just three points.
The Barcelona-based outfit have now claimed 14 points from their last eight outings to quickly climb the table, winning four of those and losing just two.
After a narrow defeat to Getafe at the end of October, Vicente Moreno‘s side bounced back to winning ways heading into the international break, defeating Granada on home turf.
Adria Pedrosa opened the scoring on the half-hour mark, and star man Raul de Thomas netted the second goal in a 2-0 victory on the stroke of half time.
Having impressed since their return to La Liga, the Periquitos will now look to claim the scalp of their rivals against the odds and continue an impressive climb up the division.
Barcelona La Liga form:
Barcelona form (all competitions):
Espanyol La Liga form:
While we are yet to see how Xavi will set Barcelona up, the Blaugrana have traditionally deployed a 4-3-3 system, preceding and running through his time as a player, and he will likely stick with that initially.
He inherits an unenviable injury list, as Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembele, Martin Braithwaite and Sergio Aguero continue to be ruled out of an attack that has struggled since the summer departure of Lionel Messi.
Given those absences, Memphis Depay will continue to be the main man going forward, while Philippe Coutinho and recent signing Luuk de Jong could complete the front three.
Returning legend Dani Alves is ineligible to feature until January, while midfield star Pedri is said to be on the verge of a return from an injury, similarly to center-back Gerard Pique and full-back Sergi Robertowith all three set to be assessed prior to the game.
Espanyol will likely remain without Keidi Bare and Oscar Gil through injury, but Vicente Moreno is not expected to be faced with any new issues.
Raul de Tomas will continue to be the star in their attack, having hit seven goals in 12 league appearances so far this season, with the former Real Madrid man earning his first two Spain caps in the recent international fixtures as a result.
Full-back Aleix Vidal will turn out against his former club, having featured 30 times for the Blaugrana between 2015 and 2018.
Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Roberto, Araujo, Garcia, Alba; Gavi, Busquets, F De Jong; Depay, L De Jong, Coutinho
Espanyol possible starting lineup:
Lopez; Vidal, Gomez, Cabrera, Pedrosa; Morlanes, Darder; Melamed, Melendo, Embarba; De Thomas
We say: Barcelona 2-1 Espanyol
While it may take time to fully implement his ideas, we see the return of a Barcelona legend as manager providing the boost the players need to get over the line on Saturday.
Defeating a resilient Espanyol side will certainly not be straightforward, but we ultimately see the Blaugrana having enough to make a winning start under Xavi.
Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting a home win in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Home Win: data