Espanyol eye chance to ruin Barcelona's La Liga title ambitions

Andy West 09:44 08/05/2016
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Familiar foes: Barcelona and Espanyol.

Barca know victory in their remaining two games will be enough to secure the championship, irrespective of the results gained by challengers Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.

But Espanyol, who assured their top flight status for next season with last weekend’s home victory over Sevilla, are determined to wreck their hated local rival’s title dreams by taking something from the game. There is a recent precedent of that scenario, with Espanyol visiting the Nou Camp on the penultimate day of the 2006/7 season and helping to hand the title to Real

Madrid – with whom they historically share a close relationship – thanks to a last minute equaliser by striker Raul Tamudo.

That dramatic day has since been immortalised as ‘Tamudazo’ by Espanyol fans, who are desperate for their team to hand Barca another dose of the same medicine tonight. Fans of Los Pericos, whose old Sarria stadium was located less than a mile from the Nou Camp before their move further away in the 1990s, even ended last week’s win over Sevilla by chanting for “another Tamudazo”, rather than celebrating their own salvation from relegation.

Current Espanyol frontman Felipe Caicedo has boosted the hype by claiming earlier this week that he is “dreaming of creating a Caicedazo”, while goalkeeper Pau Lopez admitted he wants “one of the teams from Madrid” to win the title. There has also been bad blood this season between the two teams, who met three times in the space of 10 days in January as Espanyol claimed a goalless home draw in La Liga before Barcelona came out on top of a bad-tempered two-legged Copa del Rey fixture.

Understandably, however, Barca boss Enrique is adopting the position that whipping up local enmity is the last thing his team needs at such a delicate stage of the season, and attempted to downplay all the talk of ‘Tamudazo’ which has dominated the local media.

“I don’t remember things that happened four weeks ago, never mind things like that,” he teased. “I don’t even know when it [Tamudo’s goal] happened and I’m not in the least bit interested.”

Enrique also attempted to ensure there is no ill-feeling following January’s trio of games, which saw two Espanyol players sent off, keeper Lopez escape punishment after stamping viciously on Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez hit with a ban after an incident in the tunnel.

“I have no interest in talking about those games,” he said. “They are derbies, which usually have a different tone than normal games.

“I hope we can focus on football first, second and third. But I know there will be some tension, and I expect a great atmosphere with the full support of our fans. We have to focus on the game, which is where we’re strongest.”

Continuing his mission to treat Espanyol as just another team rather than a bitter rival, Enrique added: “At this stage of the season, with the positive position we are in, I couldn’t care less who we play against. We just have to take care of all the details. We will focus on their strengths, like counter-attacking and set-pieces. And above all we must play with our heads.”

Marc-Andre ter Stegen will replace the injured Claudio Bravo in goal, while Jeremy Mathieu is set to be named on the bench after returning to fitness with no other changes expected from Enrique.

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