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Sunday, February 25, 2024  
14 Shaban 1445  

Desperate Espanyol aiming to delay rivals Barca’s title glory

Xavi Hernandez’s side can win the La Liga for the first time since 2019
Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Espanyol host Catalan derby rivals Barcelona on Sunday with a dual aim – earning three vital points in the battle for survival and also delaying the visitors’ La Liga title triumph.

Xavi Hernandez’s side can win the league for the first time since 2019 if they emerge victorious at the RCDE stadium, an unthinkable proposition for home supporters.

The Catalans can also lift the title if both second-place Atletico Madrid and third place Real Madrid fail to win their matches against Elche and Getafe respectively.

By contrast, Espanyol are fighting for their lives at the other end of the table, currently 19th and three points from safety with five games remaining.

They were relegated in 2020 for the first time in almost three decades but immediately returned to the top flight in 2021.

Espanyol became the first La Liga side to score at Camp Nou this season with a 1-1 draw against Barcelona in December, and only Real Madrid have accomplished the feat since.

Joselu struck a penalty to equalise that day and the Spanish international striker warned Barcelona that despite the teams’ positions, in a derby there is a level playing field.

“In the first match, they also came into it very strongly,” Joselu told DAZN.

“They (thought they) were going to put five against us at the Camp Nou and we got a very positive result.

“They have a lot of advantage over us coming into the second match, but in the end, a derby is a derby and you can see it all in derbies.

“One side can be better and another worse, but there, all strengths are levelled out.”

Espanyol’s defeat last weekend by Sevilla leaves Barcelona’s “other” club in a precarious position.

“We have to keep fighting because there are games and points left, we will not give up,” insisted defender Leandro Cabrera.

However of the clubs fighting relegation, Espanyol have arguably the worst remaining fixtures.

As well as Barcelona’s visit on Sunday, they host Atletico Madrid and Almeria at home, as well as visiting Rayo Vallecano and Valencia.

The last time Espanyol beat Barcelona in La Liga, coach Luis Garcia was playing for them, in February 2009 at Camp Nou.

Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets will likely feature in one of his last games for the club after announcing Wednesday he would leave at the end of the season when his contract expires.

The 34-year-old, who has featured over 700 times for the club, has five official matches remaining with the Catalan giants.

As a World Cup and European Championship winner with Spain, some Espanyol fans may be inclined to offer him farewell applause, but he won’t be banking on it in enemy territory with so much at stake.

Player to watch: David Silva

The 37-year-old playmaker has been a key figure for Real Sociedad this season, with his performances a big reason for their climb to fourth place. Silva has agreed to stay for another season with the Basque side and can celebrate his contract extension on Saturday against Girona.

Key stats

25 - Barcelona have kept 25 clean sheets this season, one short of the all-time La Liga record

174 - Real Mallorca striker Vedat Muriqi has won the most aerial battles in the league

2533 - Villarreal midfielder Dani Parejo has touched the ball more than any other player this season

Fixtures

Friday

Real Mallorca v Cadiz (1900)

Saturday

Real Sociedad v Girona (1200), Osasuna v Almeria (1415), Villarreal v Athletic Bilbao (1630), Real Madrid v Getafe (1900)

Sunday

Celta Vigo v Valencia (1200), Elche v Atletico Madrid (1415), Real Valladolid v Sevilla (1630), Espanyol v Barcelona (1900)

Monday

Real Betis v Rayo Vallecano (1900)

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FootBall

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