Tonight's Camp Nou derby between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol could be the match that decides the Spanish title with Real Madrid CF in Zaragoza.
Tonight's Camp Nou derby between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol could be the match that decides the Spanish title with Real Madrid CF playing in Zaragoza.
With two games to go until the end of the season, Madrid lead reigning champions Barça by virtue of a superior head-to-head record as the two sides prepare for ominous encounters at the weekend. Fifth-placed Real Zaragoza have Europe on their minds as they welcome Fabio Capello's Madrid while the Barcelona derby sees Espanyol desperate for consolation after a season of near misses.
Espanyol and Barça have already met this week, with Frank Rijkaard's side winning 5-4 on a penalty shoot-out following a 1-1 draw in Tuesday night's Catalan Cup final. However, with both sides fielding reserve sides, that match gives little indication of the drama that might unfold on Saturday night in one of the most tense derby games in recent memory.
Rijkaard, who will be without the suspended Ronaldinho following his red card in the 1-0 win against Getafe CF, said: "Saturday's derby will be different from the Catalonian Cup final. We can now win our third title of the season [following the Spanish Super Cup and Catalonian Cup], but if that is going to happen we will have to work for it and that's what we're doing."
Having lost to Sevilla FC in the UEFA Cup final in Glasgow, Espanyol are resigned to missing out on a return to Europe next season. Coach Ernesto Valverde said: "If Barcelona don't win the league it won't be because of us. Espanyol don't need any added motivation because it's a derby and we want to win the three points for us - not to stop them from winning the title."
Captain Raúl Tamudo is just one goal away equalling Rafa Marañón's record of 111 league goals for the club and he can imagine nothing sweeter than earning his 100th league victory against Barça. "I will be at the Camp Nou waiting to score my 111th league goal," he said. "The best way to finish our truly emotional season would be to beat Barça and there is always a desire to do that."
Barça midfielder Xavi Hernández was only too aware of the danger that their neighbours could pose "Espanyol will be less circumspect than usual since they have nothing at stake," he said. "We hope Madrid lose at la Romareda."