It’s derby night in Barcelona this Sunday (9pm CET), as Xavi’s Barça travel across the city to face their Catalan capital rivals.
It’s always a fiery affair when RCD Espanyol host city rivals FC Barcelona at the RCDE Stadium, as it was last time these teams met there in January 2020. An 88th minute equalizer from China international Wu Lei earned Espanyol a 2-2 draw, a result that ultimately cost Ernesto Valverde his job as Barça coach.
A lot has happened since then. There has been a global pandemic. Espanyol have been relegated and then promoted back again. Barcelona have changed half their playing squad, their president and their coach. They now have Xavi in the dugout, who kicked off his managerial stint at his lifelong club with a narrow 1-0 derby win over los Pericos at the Camp Nou.
Going into that first Catalan derby of 2021/22, Barcelona and Espanyol were level on points, but that’s no longer the case. The Blaugrana are now fourth on 38 points, while the Blanquiazules are 13th on 27 points. With three defeats and a draw from their past four league outings, the newly promoted side have slipped down the table after a bright start to the campaign.
Still, Espanyol will go into this Sunday’s game with all the motivation in the world. Although they earned an impressive point against Barcelona from that 2-2 draw last time the RCDE Stadium hosted the derby, they have not celebrated a league derby win in front of their own fans since 2007, before their current stadium was opened. As star striker and Spain international Raul De Tomas said in an interview with LaLiga World this week, the Barcelona derby “motivates you like no other fixture.”
There have been several draws and tight contests since then, and even a derby victory at the RCDE Stadium in a Copa del Rey first leg, but Espanyol would love to take three points away from Barça once more and that will be Sunday’s mission for the 11 players on the pitch and the thousands packing the stands.
Xavi’s second derby
This is only Xavi’s 11th LaLiga Santander match as coach, but already his second against Espanyol and their coach Vicente Moreno. After taking over from Ronald Koeman in November, the Barça icon’s first challenge was the derby at the Camp Nou and his side earned a narrow 1-0 victory courtesy of a Memphis Depay penalty.
The Espanyol players were furious about that call, so the Pericos dressing room will be determined to achieve a different outcome as they face Xavi and co. again this Sunday.
Barcelona, the second-best team in LaLiga Santander since Xavi took over
Barcelona have upped their game since that first match with Xavi in the dugout and come into this fixture after arguably their most impressive win of the entire season: last weekend’s 4-2 win over reigning champions Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou.
Xavi’s record from his first 10 LaLiga Santander matches stands at six wins, three draws and one defeat, picking up 21 points out of a possible 30. This run has got the Blaugrana back on track and, if the league campaign had started when Xavi inherited the Camp Nou dugout, then only Real Madrid would have more points than Barcelona.
There can be no resting on any laurels, though, as Atleti and Villarreal remain within touching distance in the race for a top four spot and Champions League qualification. Barcelona need to keep picking up points, but this Sunday night, at 9pm CET, they walk out at a stadium where they’ll have to battle hard to achieve a positive result.