Barcelona take on Espanyol in city derby

Updated: Jan 07, 2012, 20:04 PM IST

Madrid: FC Barcelona face one of the most difficult games of the Spanish La Liga football season when they take on city rivals Espanyol on Sunday night.

Newly crowned world club champions, Barca travel to the Cornella-El Prat Stadium after starting the weekend three points behind title rivals Real Madrid and that gap could grow to six points by the time the match kicks off if Real Madrid beat Granada Saturday.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, who was named the best coach in the world by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics on Friday, has lot of selections options for the game.

Striker David Villa is out with a broken leg, while Ibrahima Affelay is still recovering from his knee operation, but Andres Iniesta has shaken off a muscle problem that he suffered before Christmas and will be able to play, as will Alexis Sanchez, who played for 20 minutes in Wednesday`s Copa del Rey win at home to Osasuna.

Guardiola is likely to resort to his three-man defence away to Espanyol with Dani Alves playing as a false winger, while Eric Abidal, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol providing the defensive cover.

Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabrigas will play in midfield, while Leo Messi, Iniesta and Alexis are likely to provide pace and mobility in attack.

Guardiola has already warned his players that facing their neighbours will be as tough as playing away to sides like Valencia or Real Madrid.

Espanyol are enjoying a solid season and are in eighth place in the La Liga with 23 points. Mauricio Pochettino`s side suffered a surprise 2-1 defeat away to Cordoba in the Copa del Rey Thursday, but have built their season primarily on solid home form.

Striker Sergio Garcia is a constant threat for rival defence with his mobility, while Cristian Alvarez is enjoying a good season in goal.

Espanyol will count on 40,000 fans at their ground in the hope that the atmosphere will intimidate Barca, but as Real Madrid have already discovered this season, it would need more than a hostile atmosphere to disturb Guardiola`s men.