Barcelona vs Espanyol: The battle of Catalunya

Posted by Francesc Tomas

La LigaPA PhotosBarcelona-born Victor Valdes understands the significance of the derby

With over 400 million people tuning in to watch El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid several times per year, there is a growing danger that other historical, less universally-known rivalries are slowly but surely fading away in the eyes of audiences around the world.

As a firm believer of ensuring traditions endure through the years, I would like to use this column to look back at the origins of the ferocious rivalry the two most important clubs in Barcelona have developed over the last century.

The first Barcelona-Espanyol derby was played back in 1900, with both newly-formed clubs drawing 0-0 in what was still a developing sport brought to Catalunya by British merchants and students only a couple of years before then.

The eagerness to be recognised as the best team in the city progressively made these clashes much more aggressive, with Blaugrana and Perico fans regularly engaging in ferocious fights which caused a couple of matches to be played behind closed doors during the late 1920s in order to ensure the safety of the players and coaching staff.

The first Spanish league season, played during 1928/29, took this local rivalry to a national level and attracted the attention of many more fans and media coverage than ever before, making the Catalan derby one of the most eagerly-awaited battles of the whole competition.

After many years of political authorities all around the Spanish territory being involved in constant disagreements, the eruption of the Civil War was certainly not a surprise. Inevitably, a conflict of such magnitude caused the national football league to stop. But, fortunately, the two Catalan clubs managed to survive those three difficult seasons by training whenever possible and even taking part in minor competitions. As a result, the Barcelona directors had the brilliant idea of spending most of this adverse period touring across South and Central America, which also enabled them to collect a considerable amount of money in the process.

From that moment on, the distance between Barcelona and Espanyol began to grow in sporting, social and political terms. While the Blaugrana managed to win a large number of the competitions entered, gradually expanding their Catalan-minded fan-base in the process, their local rivals struggled for years due to lack of sporting success, funding and the ability to attract new supporters. The fact the Catalan media constantly portrayed Espanyol as a more Spanish-centered club also played a major part in widening the gap between them.

The rest, as they say, is history. Barcelona has gone from strength to strength and have become one of the most devotedly supported clubs on Earth, winning 62 major titles in Spain and a further 17 in European and worldwide competitions. In the same period, Espanyol have lifted the Copa del Rey four times and have been relegated to the Spanish Segunda Division on four occasions.

Fact: 191 Catalan derbies have been played so far, with Barcelona scoring 352 goals, winning 106, drawing 41 and losing 44 times.

While the Blaugrana certainly rate this clash as one of the toughest away matches of the season, the importance of the match is larger than life for Perico fans - a golden opportunity to regain the psychological ground they have lost to their local rivals over the years.

However, this adverse attitude is not necessarily mutual amongst most Cules. I personally don't consider Espanyol to be an enemy, simply a difficult sporting rival who always faces the local derby with an added aggressive boost, making those three points much more challenging to achieve.

The upcoming derby

Barcelona face the next Battle of Catalunya in a privileged position at the top of the league with a comfortable nine-point cushion over Atletico Madrid, with Real even further behind.

However, the Blaugrana must continue to face every match as if it was a final. The players' total focus and competitive nature has driven the club to a record streak of positive results and changing that attitude at this stage would definitely be a terrible idea.

The miraculous return of Tito Vilanova a mere 13 days after surgery has certainly boosted the team's morale, as has the return to training of Cesc Fabregas, Adriano and Alex Song.

Javier Mascherano explained: "The holidays went well. Now we have get back into our usual routine so we can prepare for the match against Espanyol. They will be a very difficult rival to beat. Besides the fact that they need the points, they've improved a lot with their new manager. Their dynamic has changed and they'll want to put in a good performance in the derby."

Facing Espanyol on Sunday will certainly be a challenge, given the historical rivalry between both clubs and the desperate need for 18th-placed Espanyol to add to their disappointing 15 out of a possible 51 point tally in order to avoid relegation once again.

My preferred Barcelona lineup would be: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Villa, Messi, Alexis.

Have your say:

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