Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde has warned his team of the ‘acid test’ they will face on the other town against Espanyol on Saturday.
The Barcelona Derby may not be the most attractive and most competitive rivalry in Spain but this season Espanyol pose a more serious threat.
Although Rubi’s men have lost their last three league games, they still sit comfortably in the top half of the table and have been beaten just once at home.
Valverde is well-aware of what this derby will bring: “It’s an evenly-matched derby because there isn’t much distance between us. In reality it’s the same. It’s a game that’s played from the heart and little from the head. They’re in a good moment.”
“It’s an acid test for us,” he continued in his pre-match press conference. “The points mean a bit more [due to Espanyol’s impressive home record]. Dropping points away from home is costing us.”
Valverde’s opposite number isn’t as convinced that his team sit on the same level as their opponents: If I talk about Barça scoring 37 goals in 14 games, those numbers seem spectacular to me. If in 22 games, you lose 2, I think it’s always scary, 100%.”
It’s Rubi’s first Barcelona Derby since taking over Espanyol in the summer.
“Let’s hope we get more than 30,000 [fans]. We owe them. Let’s hope the crowd helps us. I will be very concentrated on the game,” said the former Huesca boss.
Like most derbies in world football, this match-up has experienced crowd trouble in the past. Valverde is hopeful the two sets of fans can behave: “I hope that there is respect between all parties and a good atmosphere in the stadium. I expect a game with options, with risk to break down [the opponent] and create chances on goal.”
Barça’s Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez has had persistent problems with his knee throughout his time at the club and the problem isn’t seeming to go away.
“He’s still receiving treatment, we think he will be able to play tomorrow but I don’t want to worry more than normal. We have to be cautious and solve the problems that can be solved,” said Valverde.
“We have the option of Munir, who is used to leading the attack. And we have the other option of putting Messi there.”
Messi’s Barcelona teammate Gerard Piqué is a favourite pantomime villain at Espanyol’s Cornellà stadium. Certain sections of the home faithful have directed torrents of abuse at the defender on some of his past visits.
“We hope that the atmosphere will be the best despite the rivalry. We always try to play things down, but there are no friends on the pitch. The important thing is what happens on the field of play. And then, whatever happens, we have to shake hands,” said Valverde.