One of the most historic rivalries in Spanish football is back this season, with Barcelona and Espanyol to meet at the Camp Nou this Saturday evening at 9pm CET. This fixture has been played in all but five of the LaLiga Santander seasons held since the Spanish league system was formed in 1929, but last term was one of the rare occasions when there was no meeting between the Blaugrana and Los Pericos, as Espanyol were in the second tier. Having come back up as LaLiga SmartBank champions, Espanyol are ready to take on city rivals Barça once again.

There is no club Espanyol have played more frequently in their history and this weekend’s clash will be their 173rd league game against Barcelona. The head-to-head record so far is heavily in Barça’s favour, with 100 victories for city giants, 34 wins for the Pericos and 38 draws.

Espanyol fans are desperate for a derby triumph, given that they haven’t tasted victory in any of the past 22 LaLiga Santander meetings between the sides: 17 Barcelona wins and five draws. Not since a 2-1 success at the Camp Nou in 2009 have Espanyol taken all three points from their neighbours.

The Barcelona derby returns after a year away, with RCD Espanyol back in LaLiga Santander following a year in the second tier LaLiga SmartBank. The Blaugrana and Pericos go into the game level on 17 points.

That, curiously, was in Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge and Barcelona’s new coach Xavi Hernández is now following in his former boss’ footsteps as he takes over the Camp Nou dugout. This will be the 41-year-old’s first match since being appointed as the new coach and it certainly won’t be an easy first test. Talk about starting with a bang.

Two teams level on 17 points

Barcelona have historically come into their derby clashes against Espanyol looking for three points that they can put towards a championship challenge, with the Pericos usually setting out with the aim of denting their rivals’ title hopes. But the two sides come into this derby level in the table, each with 17 points to their name at this stage of the season.

Espanyol have enjoyed a terrific start to the campaign, carrying on their excellent form from last season, when they topped the second tier. Most members of that squad have stayed, so the Espanyol team has chemistry and it has quality, with top talents such as midfielders Sergi Darder and Yangel Herrera, winger Adrián Embarba and centre-forward Raúl de Tomás. Only Karim Benzema has more goals than De Tomás’ seven right now in LaLiga Santander, with the Spanish striker having just made his Spain debut off the back of his eye-catching start to 2021/22. De Tomas has also sored in each of his five appearances, including a match winning strike against Real Madrid last month.

Barcelona have stars throughout their own squad, but they have struggled for results to start off this season, which led to Ronald Koeman’s sacking last month. With several players still out injured for Barça, this could be another tricky contest for the reigning Copa del Rey champions.

Two thrilling derbies in 2019/20

The two derby matches played in 2019/20 were far from easy for Barcelona. Espanyol put up a great fight in those fixtures in the season, only to ultimately suffer relegation. In the first of those games, Wu Lei scored an 87th minute equaliser to earn a 2-2 draw that sent the RCDE Stadium wild with delight. Later that season, Quique Setién’s Barcelona scraped a 1-0 victory over Espanyol in a match that saw both sides go down to 10 men early in the second half. Espanyol had chances to equalise to the very end, but they ultimately lost that Matchday 35 game and this was the result that mathematically confirmed their relegation. This weekend, their fans will hope for some revenge.

Xavi vs Vicente Moreno

That last meeting between Barcelona and Espanyol took place at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, so there were no fans inside the stadium. This weekend’s derby will therefore be the first Barcelona derby with fans allowed inside the Camp Nou since March 2019. A big crowd is expected for this Saturday’s showpiece event, with many of these supporters coming to witness history as Xavi coaches his first match.

The former captain will look to implement his methods quickly. Xavi took his first steps in management with Qatari side Al-Sadd and will now coach his first LaLiga Santander game, having played 505 times in the Spanish top flight during his playing days.

Espanyol coach Vicente Moreno is only a few years older than Xavi, but he does have a lot more experience in LaLiga Santander and has already taken on Barça twice when he was with RCD Mallorca, suffering two defeats. This, though, will be Moreno’s first Barcelona derby and he’ll look to win the chess match with Xavi, who he played against once during their playing days when Moreno was with Xerez.

 Watch the Barcelona derby this Saturday at 23.00 CAT on SUPERSPORT LALIGA.

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