All the talk in the football world over the last seven days has centred around one man – Lionel Messi.
The magical Argentine has captivated the world with his four-goal salvo against Arsenal in the Champions League and then his clinical finish at the Santiago Bernabeu in FC Barcelona’s 2-0 defeat of arch-rivals Real Madrid.
His stock has risen so high that now there is simply no debate as to who is the best player on the planet, having outshone Cristiano Ronaldo so completely as to leave everyone wondering why there had even been such a discussion in the first place.
But Barcelona are more than just one man and in Xavi Hernandez they have arguably the world’s best midfielder when it comes to visionary passing and dictating the tempo of the game. The Catalan side are, quite simply, the best club side to have taken to the field in the last 20 years.
Espanyol host Barcelona in ‘El Derbi Barceloni’ in a match that appears pretty one-sided at first glance and does not get much better for the home side the more you look at it.
Espanyol are still not entirely safe from relegation though one more win would probably be enough to see them competing in the Primera Liga again next season. They will do well to get the three points on Saturday against a team they have only beaten once in their last eight meetings.
That win did come fairly recently though – February 2009 – and was recorded at the Camp Nou with two sumptuous goals from former Barcelona favourite, Ivan De La Pena.
It will take something equally remarkable for a similar outcome this time.
With Pep Guardiola’s side stretching their lead at the top to six points with a ritual destruction of Deportivo La Coruna on Wednesday night, the new ‘Galacticos’ need to return to winning ways very quickly.
Real Madrid face Valencia this weekend in a match that pits second against third but – with 21 points separating them – that’s where the similarity ends.
‘Los Che’ have lost two of their last three matches and face the very real danger of losing their automatic Champions League spot with Mallorca and Sevilla waiting to pounce. They have also exited European competition, losing a contentious UEFA Europa League tie against Atletico Madrid leaving them with just third place to focus on.
David Villa will, inevitably, be the visitors main threat with 20 La Liga goals to his name already this term. Manager Unai Emery will be hoping his star man can repeat his brace from two years ago that spurred his team onto a famous 3-2 win in the Bernabeu.
It remains to be seen whether Valencia are capable of such a result in what has been a below average season for them but Real Madrid may be ripe for the plucking after their schooling by Barca last weekend. Will they react positively or has the Florentino Perez’s latest extravagant experiment fallen flat on its face?