To suggest that Barca have enjoyed their recent meetings with Espanyol would be a slight understatement. Indeed, the Spanish champions have not lost to their Catalan rivals in the league since February 2009, while they recorded a 4-0 victory in the corresponding match last season.
Valverde's side have actually already lost the same number of league matches (3) as they did in the entirety of last season. A total of 39 points from 18 matches is enough to lead the division at this stage, although Real Madrid are just two points behind in second position.
Barca could be second by the time that they take to the field on Saturday night as Los Blancos are in action away to Getafe earlier in the day. Sevilla will also feel that they are in the title race at this stage as they sit just five points off the top of the table on the same number of matches.
The Catalan giants are unbeaten in the league since a 3-1 loss at Levante on November 2 and have won five of their seven fixtures since then. They finished 2019 with a 4-1 win over Alaves having played out a goalless draw with Real Madrid in El Clasico on December 18.
It seems unlikely that Barca will be running away with the title this season, although it is difficult to discount them in any competition due to Lionel Messi. The Argentine had his injury problems earlier in the season but has managed 15 goals in 18 outings during the 2019-20 campaign.
Espanyol have been present in La Liga since being promoted at the end of the 1993-94 campaign, but there is a fear that the club could drop into the Segunda Division come the end of the current season.
The White and Blues finished seventh in La Liga last term, while they have not been lower than 14th since 2005-06. It has been a tough first half to the 2019-20 campaign, though, as they sit bottom of the table with just 10 points to show from their 18 matches thus far.
Just two league victories have arrived, but the situation is not terminal as they sit just five points from the safety of 17th position, meaning that it is far from a lost cause with a lot of football still to take place.
Abelardo was appointed as the club's new manager last month, and the 49-year-old, who turned out for Barca as a player between 1994 and 2002, is due to hold the position until the end of the campaign.
Espanyol actually managed to progress to the last-32 stage of the Europa League by topping their group, but they have not won in the league since the end of October, losing six of their last eight at this level, including a 2-0 defeat at Leganes in their last game before the international break.
Espanyol La Liga form: LDLLDL
Espanyol form (all competitions): LLLDWL
Barcelona La Liga form: WWWDDW
Barcelona form (all competitions): WWWDDW
Pol Lozano could return to the side in midfield at the expense of Granero, but there are not expected to be many changes from the XI that took to the field against Leganes.
Espanyol possible starting lineup:
Diego Lopez; David Lopez, Calero, Espinosa; Roca; Gomez, Darder, Lozano, Vila; Campuzano, Calleri
Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Neto; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, De Jong; Messi, Griezmann, Suarez
We say: Espanyol 0-2 Barcelona
Having not beaten Barca in the league since February 2009, it is difficult to back Espanyol with any real confidence. The Spanish champions will be well-rested following the winter break, and we are finding it very difficult to predict anything other than a comfortable away win.
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