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Barcelona is back; back in shape, back in the Champions League places in LaLiga and back looking forward to meeting neighbors Espanyol again.
Following a 4-2 win over Atletico Madrid last time, following a transfer window that is widely considered a success, Blaugrana is on the rise.
Still huge 15 points from the pace set by bitter rivals Real Madrid, there will be no title tilt, but this week Barca can focus on their local enemies.
A few weeks ago, Espanyol might have wondered if this could be their chance to turn a gloomy race into their biggest battle.
Now Xavi – whose coaching career at Barca began with a 1-0 home win over Espanyol – takes his team to Cornella-El Prat with the players full of confidence that Stats Perform finds.
Record-breaking derby dominance
Xavi was actually in the Barcelona team the last time they lost a Derbi Barceloni in LaLiga. So is that a positive sign for Espanyol? Probably not. The reason the retired midfielder was involved is that the result came all the way back in February 2009.
Since the 2-1 Camp Nou reversal, Barca have gone 23 without a defeat against Espanyol, equaling the longest unbeaten run in any derby in LaLiga’s history. Anything other than an Espanyol victory on Sunday would surpass Real Madrid’s 2000-2013 sequence against Atletico for the direct record.
In this stretch, Blaugrana have recorded 18 wins and five draws, meaning they now have 101 wins against Espanyol in the LaLiga. Only Espanyol again, against Madrid (104), have ever lost several matches to an opponent in the competition.
As a player, Xavi had a role in 21 of these successes – his most against any team in the LaLiga – with the 2009 result one of only two Espanyol victories against the great midfielder.
Blaugrana back in shape
Xavi’s coaching career will do well to come close to matching his playing performances – both in this match and as a whole – but there have been promising signs in recent matches.
After beating Deportivo Alaves before Atletico, Barca are looking for a third LaLiga victory in a row. They last achieved such a race in April 2021 (six matches).
In contrast, Espanyol have lost their previous two and are unbeaten in four, putting 11 points and nine places between themselves and Barca. By the end of 2021, only two points and two places had separated the pair, with Espanyol in ninth place and Barca in seventh place.
Fire-midable or fir-tunate?
Just as much as another win on Sunday would be appreciated, the success against Atletico was a real statement victory for Xavi as he saw Barca score four in a single match for the first time since the season-opening 4-2 defeat to Real Sociedad.
Barca had also been the last team to score four against Atleti in the LaLiga, with Xavi in the row for the 4-1 triumph in December 2012.
In each of these games, however, the result line has not completely told the whole story. In 2012, Barca surpassed their 1.13 expected goals by 2.87. This time, they far exceeded their 0.63 xG – the difference of 3.37, the biggest for any team in a LaLiga match this season.
Whether Barca can be quite as clinical on a consistent basis going forward is another matter. Jordi Alba’s outrageous volley from a Dani Alves pass was only worth 0.05 xG.
Best form of attack is …
With Alves scoring as well as assisting Alba and Ronald Araujo also on the scoring list, three of Barca’s four goals against Atleti came from defenders. Only Villarreal can match their eight such strikes this season.
However, Alves, the fourth oldest player in LaLiga this century, will not add to his record this week after becoming the first Barca player since at least 2004-05 to score, assist and be sent off in the same league match.
But Espanyol will still have to contend with Adama Traore, who might also have played in defense if he had joined Tottenham as a wing-back instead of returning to Camp Nou in a natural attacking role.
Traore impressed on his second Barca debut with an assist for Gavi, meaning he has involved two goals in three games in Europe’s top five leagues – as many as in his previous 25 appearances. Espanyol has been warned.