La Liga Betting: Barcelona v Espanyol


The off-field gloom that descended in Catalunya prior to the winter break has already been lifted with the unexpected news that Tito Vilanova should be returning to pitchside for this match. The Catalan derby is often an emotionally charged game; add the comeback of the home team's manager and a sprinkling of politics and independence rallying, and the atmosphere could be electric.

It's been a disastrous season for cross town rivals Espanyol: though they remain unbeaten since new man Javier Aguirre took to the hot-seat, surviving relegation still tops the list of priorities. Former Spanish international Joan Capdevila is optimistic of an upset: "Some day they will have to lose – they can’t win all of the time."

Team news

The festive period allowed a number of players to recuperate from their respective injuries. Adriano, Alex Song, Cesc Fàbregas and Isaac Cuenca are all back in full training. Carles Puyol and Fàbregas may return to the starting line-up having missed the win over Real Valladolid. Andrés Iniesta will probably move forward to replace Alexis Sánchez in attack.

Wakaso Mubarak has already left for the African Cup of Nations with Ghana, so Aguirre will make at least one change from the team that beat Deportivo La Coruña. Skipper Cristian Álvarez is doubtful.

Form

It took a little longer than expected for Barça to find their rhythm last time-out, as Real Valladolid offered a decent test. They ran out 3-1 winners though, keeping the gap between first and second at nine points.

With the Mexican in charge the Periquitos have yet to be beaten, and the victory over Depor has given new belief that they can rise out of danger. They have just one win in 18 matches on the road in the league.

Recent head-to-head

Espanyol often perform well against their bitter rivals, even if results have not always been so encouraging. A 5-1 defeat back in December 2010 was a particular standout moment as they attempted to match each other stride for stride, the performance not reflected in the one-sided scoreline. Recent draws in the league have come at the Cornellà-El Prat rather than the Camp Nou.

Goalscorer betting

The match in Valladolid was a rare Lionel Messi game for this season, as he only managed to score once. He also hit the post from a free-kick and showed that he is human after all with a right-footed mishit shot that was closer to the corner flag than the goal. He's at 1.22 to score.

The commanding presence of Real Valladolid's Manucho caused discomfort for the Barcelona defence through sheer size and physicality. The impressive Samuele Longo has all the tools to offer a similar threat. The on-loan Internazionale forward is 15.00 to open the scoring.

Verdict

Revitalised from the mid-season break and in high spirits with Vilanova back in the dressing room, Barcelona are likely to impose the first defeat of Aguirre's reign. It's a meager 1.08 for a Barça victory, while a shock away win would fetch you an astonishing 21.00.

Bonus bet

Barcelona have scored at least two goals in their last 14 matches in La Liga, whilst their opponents have done likewise in their last three games. With over 2.5 goals netted in 19 of the last 22 matches at the Camp Nou, then it's a fairly obvious 1.22 for over 2.5 goals once again.

Score prediction: Barcelona 2-0 Espanyol (8.50)