Barça pre­pared for a ‘phys­i­cal’ Es­panyol derby

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

ES­PANYOL look set to get phys­i­cal with Span­ish leader Barcelona as they try to pro­tect their per­fect record at their Cor­nella El-Prat sta­dium in this week­end’s Cata­lan cap­i­tal derby.

Es­panyol have won all seven games played at the Cor­nella de Llo­bre­gat ground on the out­skirts of Barcelona to sit a sur­pris­ing fourth in the ta­ble with 28 points.

But Barcelona have won nine straight games to top the stand­ings with 40 points and a 10th vic­tory would hand Es­panyol their sec­ond straight loss and could al­low teams be­low to catch up ahead of the short 11-day win­ter break.

Es­panyol coach Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino was not afraid of stok­ing up what will likely be an­other heated derby.

“I be­lieve in be­ing ag­gres­sive in a pos­i­tive sense, not a neg­a­tive one,” said the Ar­gen­tine coach, who was shown more red cards than any other player dur­ing his play­ing ca­reer with the club.

“We’re go­ing to main­tain our style. While there are el­e­ments that will change be­cause of our ri­val, the iden­tity of the team will be the same as al­ways.”

Es­panyol’s lead­ing scorer Pablo Os­valdo said the team will show no fear de­spite Barcelona com­ing off an em­phatic 5-0 win over Real So­ciedad.

“We know we’re play­ing the best team in the world, but we’ve also got our own weapons,” said the Ar­gen­tine striker, who has five goals this cam­paign. “We don’t have an Ini­esta, a Xavi, a Messi, but we have other things. We’re united.”

Barcelona’s dis­play against So­ciedad showed why they are a favourite to win the Cham­pi­ons League, with Lionel Messi again lead­ing the way with a pair of goals.

The de­fend­ing Span­ish cham­pi­ons picked their op­po­nent apart with pre­cise runs, im­mac­u­late pass­ing and lethal fin­ish­ing with nearly the en­tire game played in­side So­ciedad’s half.

”Both teams ar­rive in such great form,” Barcelona cap­tain Car­les Puyol said. “The game will be very dif­fi­cult for both teams, it looks like it will be quite even.”

Real Madrid will be hop­ing Es­panyol can pro­tect their home record as they trail Barcelona by two points go­ing into to­mor­row’s game against Sevilla.

Madrid have won all 11 games played at their San­ti­ago Bern­abeu sta­dium, while Sevilla have lost four straight do­mes­tic matches.

Madrid will be with­out de­fen­sive play­ers Xabi Alonso and Marcelo to sus­pen­sion and striker Gon­zalo Higuain to in­jury.

But mid­fielder Sami Khedira should re­turn while Madrid are hope­ful Ser­gio Ramos can be avail­able de­spite ini­tially be­ing ruled out for the re­main­der of 2010 with a leg in­jury. – Sapa-AP

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