Barcelona continue their quest to put an exclamation point on their claiming of the Primera Division title by matching Real Madrid’s record points haul when they visit local rivals Espanyol on Sunday. It is, of course, a game that the Catalans would have dearly hoped not to be playing this weekend, with the club’s ambition to have been in the Champions League final at Wembley a day earlier.
Things did not pan out that way, as they suffered an eye opening 7-0 aggregate defeat in the semifinals against Bayern Munich. To outsiders that loss has taken much of the shine off of their La Liga triumph. But having had to deal with the loss of coach Tito Vilanova to cancer treatment for a close to two months of the season and with defender Eric Abidal having to have a liver transplant, Alexis Sanchez is keen to point out the squad’s success. “This was an important title for us, and everything that happened with our manager and with Abidal motivated us that little bit more,” he said, according to Barcelona’s official website.
Barcelona will again be without Lionel Messi on Sunday and the team has suffered since the Argentinian first suffered a hamstring injury in the first-leg of the Champions League quarterfinal with Paris Saint-Germain. Much of that has been down to Barcelona’s other forwards, including Sanchez, failure to step up.
But, despite a difficult season, the Chilean has dismissed speculation linking him with a move away from the Camp Nou. “They want me to stay and I am very happy to do so,” he said. “I hope to offer a lot more of myself next season. I am pleased with what I have managed to do so far, but I can do much more. I never give up and I hope to be able to things even better next year.”
Espanyol are on a poor run of form -- taking just one point from their last four matches -- to leave themselves marooned in midtable. But Javier Aguirre’s side welcome Joan Capdevila, Juan Forlin and Victor Sanchez back from suspension. Alexis Sanchez is not taking their neighbors lightly. “It’s a big game against Espanyol, Barca always have to win every game and this will be a difficult opponent,” he explained.
Vilanova, who has returned to Barcelona after spending the week in New York, will have Adriano and Dani Alves available after the pair missed last week’s 2-1 win over Real Valladolid through injury.
D: Lopez, Colotto, Rodriguez, Capdevila
M: Sanchez, Forlin
Stuani, Verdu, Wakaso
D: Dani Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alaba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
Sanchez, Fabregas, Tello
Prediction: Espanyol have suffered just one defeat in their last 11 games at the Cornella-El Prat and have the ability to make things difficult for Barcelona. But the Catalans have the motivation of reaching 100 points and should claim a third-straight narrow win.
Espanyol 1-2 Barcelona
Where to watch: The Primera Division clash will kick-off at 2 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport, with a live stream available on beIN Sport Play.