Barcelona will be desperate to bounce back from a hard-fought frustrating weekend result when they host city rivals Espanyol at Camp Nou for the first-leg of the Copa del Rey Round of 16 clashes.
Espanyol managed to hold the Blaugrana to a goalless stalemate at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat last Saturday, but Barcelona boss Luis Enrique is quite optimistic that his boys will show a much-improved performance tonight, especially with two of the most high-profile acquisitions set to make their Barcelona debuts.
The ill-tempered draw last weekend left the defending La Liga champions two points behind Atletico Madrid at the top of the La Liga table, although Barcelona still have a game in hand.
Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan have been finally registered with the LFP following an FIFA-enforced transfer ban restricted them from playing for the last six months, so excitement is certainly at a fever pitch for this Catalan derby and indeed for Turan and Vidal’s much-awaited debuts.
A comprehensive win would see Barcelona all but confirm their place in the quarter-finals, with a second-leg to follow in a week back at the Cornella-El Prat; this first leg fixture will remain up for grabs until the end of that leg.
Indeed, in many ways it can be said that it’s somehow a disadvantage for the Blaugrana as they have to play the first-leg at home; typically, according to stats Barcelona generally thrives when they get a chance to rock the boat and snatch an away goal or two in the opening leg, or with an entertaining clash at Camp Nou left to save their blushes after any surprising loss.
Espanyol, who last won the Copa del Rey trophy in 2006, have lost all of their last four visits to the Nou Camp. They are also on a six-game winless run away from home in all competitions, losing five of them.
Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal are ready and raring to hit the ground hard. Both the summer signings are to be included in the starting eleven. Turan, a fiery yet creative midfielder is surely a difference-maker, and it’s an open secret that the Turkish star has been dreaming of this highly anticipated moment for long time. On the other hand, Aleix Vidal is regarded as an emerging prospect; he managed to put his name in the headlines during Sevilla’s historic Europa League campaign last term, where he played in various positions with only one constant, that is his high-level of performance. He can definitely challenge Dani Alves for his starting role at left-back position, or could yet operate from the wing, or even on the opposite side of the defence, depending on the plan Luis Enrique has in mind for Vidal’s first competitive match in 6 months. Apart from the two high-profile debuts, there is only one injury concern, versatile midfielder Sergi Roberto is expected to sit out tonight’s home match as he picked up a hamstring injury in the last match. It will be also interesting to see who will make way for the two newbies. Enrique might choose Turan ahead of Rakitic to partner with Iniesta in the midfield.
Arda Turan’s versatility and tactical intelligence might prove effective for Barcelona boss over the coming fixtures, as the former Atletico star could easily position in either midfield role, or further forward if the team need more attacking display depending on the situation.
Unused substitute Rober Correa might be dropped out of the team, which gives an opportunity for a couple of new names: French centre-half Mickael Ciani and energetic forward, Mamadou Sylla. Apart from this, no changes for Constantin Galca’ Espanyol squad and a similar approach is expected today given how well they restricted Barca’s fierce attacks on Saturday.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Vidal, Bartra, Vermaelen, Alba; Busquets, Arda, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Espanyol (4-2-3-1): Pau; Javi Lopez, Roco, Alvaro, Duarte; Diop, Jordan; Asensio, Abraham, Perez; Caicedo
Barcelona Win: 1/10
Espanyol Win: 20/1
Espanyol showed a lot of energy in holding Barcelona last time, back at Camp Nou Bara should win with relative ease, so 2-0 for Barcelona.