Espanyol stand in the way as Barcelona target club record
The leaders are unbeaten in 21 LaLiga games since the start of the season.
Barcelona have the chance to break a club record on Sunday when they take on city rivals Espanyol for the third time in just over a fortnight.
If the runaway LaLiga leaders avoid defeat at the RCDE Stadium it would stretch their unbeaten start to the league season to 22 games.
That would be the best run in the club’s history, and move them to within 10 games of equalling the national record, which was set by Real Sociedad in 1979-80.
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Barca coach Ernesto Valverde, who took charge last summer, told a press conference: “It’s a good statistic and it’s positive for us.
“It means we’re on a good run, although with regards to how I feel right now it doesn’t tell me anything. We’ll see after tomorrow’s match.”
With a gap of 14 places and 33 points between the clubs in LaLiga, Barca will fancy their chances of not only setting that new club milestone but also picking up a 19th league win of the campaign.
However, they know from recent experience the threat that their neighbours pose, with Espanyol having beaten Barca 1-0 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final last month.
That brought to an end Barca’s 29-match unbeaten run in all competitions and, while Valverde’s men managed to overturn that loss in the second leg to make the semi-finals, they are bracing themselves for another tough afternoon on Sunday.
Barca can also expect an intimidating atmosphere at the home of their rivals, with tensions having risen further still during the two cup clashes, but Valverde is not taking too much notice of that.
He said: “A lot of noise is made about a lot of things, and then the fans are normal.
“They said similar things about Atletico and Real Madrid, grounds where very hostile atmospheres were expected, the same as the cup first leg against Espanyol.
“But beyond the tension of the rivalry, it was a normal game and I’m expecting the same (tomorrow).
“The game will be tough because of our opponents and because it’s derby, not because of anything else.
“These games are special and you also play a little bit with the heart as well.”
Barca’s big-money summer signing Ousmane Dembele has back in training after injury but Sunday’s game comes too soon for him, while Andre Gomes and Thomas Vermaelen are also missing.
Espanyol coach Quique Sanchez Flores could hand Carlos Sanchez his debut after signing the Colombia midfielder on loan from Fiorentina.
He is the main newcomer as Espanyol look to end a run of three successive defeats since toppling Barca in the cup first leg.
Striker Gerard Moreno told a press conference: “To win we have to play well from the beginning and be very focused.
“We have to repeat what we did in the cup match where we defended very well and didn’t allow them many chances.
“We are working to get better results and to improve.”
Sanchez also hopes there will be no off-field problems in a match that has been declared high risk by the authorities.
He added: “What interests me is that the fans and the team are united in trying to get the win.
“I hope there’s a fantastic atmosphere and that it’s a calm day, normal.”