• Barcelona starting XI:Bravo, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta, Suarez, Messi, Neymar
  • Subs: Ter Stegen, Bartra, Mathieu, Adriano, Sergi Roberto, Munir, Sandro 
  • Espanyol starting XI: Pau, Javi Lopez, Alvaro, Enzo Roco, Víctor Alvarez, Diop, Jordan, Hernan Perez, Burgui, Asensio, Caicedo
  • Subs: Bardi, Correa, Durante, Moreno, Sevilla, Gonzalez, Raillo
  • La Liga’s first match of 2016 is the Catalan derby between Espanyol and Barcelona at Estadi Cornella-El Prat
  • Lionel Messi and Co start the New Year top of the La Liga standings
  • Mid-table Espanyol will be hoping to upset their local rivals 

Matt Maltby For Mailonline

Follow live coverage of the Catalan derby between Espanyol and Barcelona from Estadi Cornella-El Prat (kick-off 3pm).

Barcelona started the New Year top of La Liga – level on points with Atletico Madrid but with a game in hand – and they will be hoping to start 2016 on a high by beating their rivals.

Join MATT MALTBY for the action as it unfolds.

  • Matt Maltby

    Host commentator

Between this game and the one in midweek against Real Betis, Barcelona have hit the woodwork seven times. SEVEN! 

Oh Suarez, how have you missed that? Even Luis Enrique must’ve thought that was the opener but the striker strikes the post with the goal at his mercy. Embarrassing miss, that.

Barcelona do finally have the ball in the net – but Iniesta slots home after the linesman rightly waves his flag for offside. 

Barcelona are quick out the blocks and they’ll be wondering how they haven’t scored here. It’s a bit of a scramble in the box before the loose ball finds its way to Neymar who smashes the ball but it’s blocked by a diving Espanyol player.

In the build-up, Suarez did superbly to wiggle his way through the hosts defence.

Barcelona get us back underway at Estadi Cornella-El Prat and quickly play it back to defence where they hold on to possession. No changes made at the break.

Espanyol fans chanting that Messi should pay his taxes. Their spirits haven’t dipped at all and their team are playing well. Barcelona might start to get sick of the sight of them if this continues – these teams will meet twice more in the next 11 days, with the other two matches in the Copa del Rey.

Considering there’s been few clear-cut chances for both teams, it’s been a pretty eventful opening half. The best chance has gone to Messi, who struck the crossbar from a free-kick but Alba and Suarez will both feel they should’ve done better with their chances. 

At the other end, Espanyol saw Pique come to Bravo’s rescue after the goalkeeper made a meal of a corner. 

As Rik points out below, Espanyol have given away plenty of free-kicks in this first half. The majority of them have been near the half-way line but they’ll have to be careful as we all know what Messi can do from a dead-ball situation…

Jordan (right) fights for the ball with Barcelona’s Messi

Messi falls as he vies for the ball

Unsurprisingly, the longer the half goes on the more Barcelona are coming into the match. Jordan booked for hauling back Messi and Espanyol coach Constantin Galca is going to have to start thinking about managing his booked players so they don’t get reduced to 10 men at some point.

It’s that man Messi, who made his 500th appearance for the club in their 4-0 win over Real Betis earlier this week, and he is inches away from opening the scoring.

The Argentina superstar confidently steps up and but his free-kick smacks the crossbar and is cleared to safety. His reaction said it all, too. 

Neymar has been the victim of a number of tough tackles by Espanyol players in this first half. This time, Hernan Perez chases down the Brazilian superstar and has several kicks at his heels before the referee finally blows his whistle for a free-kick. It’s heating up at Estadi Cornella-El Prat.

Lionel Messi is hunted down by two Espanyol players during the Catalan derby

Víctor Alvarez and Javier Mascherano are both booked for their part in a heated exchange inside Barcelona’s penalty area. 

Rik Sharma: Referee Gonzalez Gonzalez has lost control. The players are scuffling in the box, two have gone in the book. This is the referee who gave two non-existent penalties to Real Madrid in midweek. In my opinion he should have been kept out of the spotlight for a little while…

The pressure is mounting on Espanyol now, with Suarez failing to connect to the ball from close-range before the hosts clear the ball for a corner. Consecutive corners are cleared away but Barca regain possession and surge forward.

Most of the possession is being played in the hosts’ half. But it’s still goalless and that’s all that matters… for now! 

Rik Sharma: Finally some possession for Barcelona and it nearly leads to a goal. Even without playing well they are still capable of cutting through defences like a hot knife through butter. Or three hot knives through butter – yep, it’s Messi, Suarez and Neymar causing problems. 

As with most away grounds in Spain, Gerard Pique and Neymar are the two Barcelona players that come in for a lot of abuse.  Espanyol fans in very good voice in general though, with Cornella buzzing.

A female Espanyol supporter wills her team on during the derby clash with Barcelona

It’s all Barcelona as we approach the 15 minute mark but Espanyol look threatening on the break. As you’d expect, the La Liga leaders are dominating possession and look to exploit the flanks via Neymar and Suarez.

However, Espanyol striker Caicedo is a presence and is quick to release his wingers at every opportunity.

 

He’s got to score that! Luis Suarez does brilliantly down the right wing and plays in a superb delivery to the unmarked Alba. But the left back is put off my an Espanyol defender and somehow misses the chance, failing to connect with the ball with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Here we go then. Espanyol get us underway and they’ll be keen to send their fans home happy with a victory over their fierce rivals. Barcelona will be full of confidence following their 4-0 victory over Real Betis on Wednesday.

The Catalan derby is missing the spice it used to have in the 70s and 80s, partly because the political situation is less charged between the club’s fans (Barcelona have always been pro-independence, swathes of Los Pericos support against), but also because of the footballing dominance of today’s visitors in recent years.

Barcelona, as you’d expect, are top of La Liga on goal difference while Espanyol are down in 13th place going into this Catalan Derby. 

Below is how the table stands:

Espanyol XI to play Barcelona: Pau Lopez, Javi Lopez, Alvaro, Enzo Roco, Victor Alvarez, Pape Diop, Joan Jordan, Hernan Perez, Marco Asensio, Felipe Caicedo

Subs: Francesco Bardi, Rober Correa, Ruben Durante, Gerard Moreno, Salva Sevilla, Abraham Gonzalez, Antonio Raillo

Barcelona XI to play Espanyol: Claudio Bravo, Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar

Substitutes: Marc Andre Ter Stegen, Marc Bartra, El Haddadi Munir, Sandro, Sergei Roberto, Adriano, Jeremy Mathieu

Hello and welcome to the 2016 La Liga curtain-raiser!

Firstly, Happy New Year to all – just the small matter of a Catalan derby between Espanyol and Barcelona to keep you occupied this afternoon. 

Confirmed teams coming your way…

 

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