Madrid, Feb 3 (IANS) FC Barcelona face the shortest, but one of the toughest away trips before the end of the football season when they travel to face local rivals Espanyol on Sunday afternoon.
Barcelona can always expect a hostile reception in Espanyol’s Cornella-El Prat Stadium, but with relations between the two sides at close to an all-time low, that reception will be more hostile than ever, reports Xinhua news agency.
Cornella was recently the venue for Barca’s first defeat in 30 games as Espanyol beat Barca in the King’s Cup less than three weeks ago, only for Barca to overturn the 0-1 defeat with a 2-0 victory in the Camp Nou.
Espanyol then denounced declarations made by Barca duo Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique after the game with Busquets saying that Espanyol should not have celebrated their 1-0 first leg win with the second leg still to play.
Such has been the increase in tension that official Espanyol clubs have appealed for calm to avoid possible incidents in the stands.
In footballing terms, Barca travel on the back of their narrow 1-0 Cup win at home to Valencia on Thursday and with little time to recover, coach Ernesto Valverde will have to make some changes with half an eye on next Thursday’s return leg, which could see Barca book yet another Cup final appearance.
Phillipe Coutinho could return to the starting 11, while Nelson Semedo has options at right back and Paulinho looks a likely starter for a game where Valverde may use an extra midfielder.
Espanyol lost experienced midfielder Javi Fuego to Villarreal in the closing days of the transfer window, but have had all week to prepare for the game, and striker Gerard Moreno commented that “they may be talking about other issues elsewhere, but we are concentrating on the game.”