The Numbers Game: Barcelona´s one-sided derby

    La Liga leaders Barcelona return to action on Saturday, looking to pick up where they left off before the World Cup and finish 2023 at a high level.

    Blaugrana have won each of their last five league matches ahead of Qatar 2022, leaving them top of the table at half-time.

    They will be sure to do it six times in a row this weekend.

    While local derbies can be especially difficult to predict, Barcelona’s duels with Espanyol tend to go in the same direction.

    One-way derby

    This is not a derby that has been characterized by unpredictability in recent years.

    Barcelona have not lost any of their last 24 meetings with Espanyol (W18 D6), their longest unbeaten streak in the top flight.

    Their last such defeat was nearly 14 years ago in February 2009 (1-2), in a game played by current Barça manager Xavi.

    Of course, this defeat came as a huge shock: former Barça player Ivan de la Peña scored both goals as Espanyol won their first league match at the Camp Nou in 27 years.

    Before the game, there was a whopping 42-point gap between the two teams, with Barça in first place and Espanyol at the bottom with the latter finishing 10th.

    But since then, Barcelona have won all 12 home matches against Espanyol in La Liga while keeping 10 clean sheets.

    In fact, they have won more home games against Espanyol in La Liga than against any other opponent (G87 W69 D9 L9).

    Shape guide

    There is every reason to expect Barça’s derby streak to continue this weekend, given the shape of the two teams ahead of the World Cup.

    Barça had amassed 37 points in 14 games before the suspension (W12 D1 L1), which is their second highest total at this stage of the La Liga season (also 37 points in 2010–11) and second only to the 2012–13 and 2013–14 seasons . campaigns when they scored 40 points (W13 D1 in both).

    In contrast, Espanyol have won only two of their first 14 games this season (D6 L6), which is their lowest number of wins at this stage of the season in the top division (along with eight other occasions).

    Neither of those two victories came in the five games leading up to the season break, with Espanyol able to beat tier four Atlético Paso 1-0 in last week’s Copa del Rey thanks to an 80th-minute win.

    Xavi’s Stingy Defense

    Of course, we tend to associate Barça with a brilliant attack and this season they have definitely shown that.

    But defensively, they were also healthy.

    Xavi’s side have not scored 11 times in La Liga this season, more than any team in the top five European leagues.

    It is also Barça’s biggest clean sheet after 14 appearances in a La Liga season this century.

    But they’re not exactly bulletproof.

    If Espanyol breaks Barça’s defence, their strategy could revolve around a tight start, as the Blue-Whites have conceded a league-record 60% of goals in the first 15 minutes of matches (3/5) this season.

    Promotion of Barça Levy

    Espanyol prepared for this game, confident that the suspension of Robert Lewandowski would at least increase their chances of a surprise.

    In any case, this was until Friday, when it became known that the Polish striker would indeed be available.

    Lewandowski was sent off for two warnings against Osasuna in Barça’s last game before the World Cup, and the gesture he made as he left the field earned him an additional two-match ban.

    But “a precautionary measure against suspension imposed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport” means that the final suspension decision has been deferred, freeing the Polish star, who has scored 13 goals in 14 league games this season, to face Espanyol.

    The task facing Espanyol has become even more difficult, and therefore the importance of Joselu to Los Pericos has increased again.

    The striker has been in 50 per cent of Espanyol’s goals in La Liga this season (8/16) and Borja Iglesias (eight) is the only Spaniard to score more than his seven.

    However, he would certainly have traded it all for a decisive derby kick as Barça’s remarkable stats once again made them undeniable favourites.

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