MADRID: Holders Barcelona will be looking to seal their place in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals on Wednesday in the final installment of three heated Catalan derbies against Espanyol over 10 days.
The European champions hold a commanding 4-1 lead from the first-leg which Espanyol ended with nine men after red cards for Hernan Perez and Papakouli Diop, whilst goalkeeper Pau Lopez escaped punishment for stamping on newly crowned Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi.
However, Barca will be without the suspended Luis Suarez as he was given a two-match ban for confronting Espanyol players in the tunnel after the game and calling them a “waste of space”.
Espanyol have also been reported to Spain’s anti-violence commission by the Spanish league for alleged racist abuse aimed at Brazilian star Neymar during the sides’ 0-0 draw in La Liga on January 2.
Barca boss Luis Enrique compared Espanyol’s roughhouse tactics to playing American football after the first-leg, but will meet with his counterpart Constantin Galca on Tuesday to try and ease tensions between the two clubs.
Despite their comfortable lead and a punishing schedule of up to 17 games in January and February, Enrique is expected to start with both Messi and Neymar in attack in Suarez’s absence.
Javier Mascherano, Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta are also expected to return after being rested for Saturday’s 4-0 rout of Granada.
La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid have far more work to do to reach the last eight after only managing a 1-1 draw with a much-changed side away to Rayo Vallecano last week.
Atletico boss Diego Simeone has made a telling contribution with one of his substitutes scoring in each of the last four games and insisted he won’t hold back in rotating his squad once more for the return-leg at the Vicente Calderon on Thursday.
“We are doing things well and that gives us energy to prepare for the game in the Copa del Rey,” said the Argentine.
“We don’t believe we are better or worse than any opponents, but we have a group of 23 players that are prepared to compete at any moment and those that come off the bench are giving us the chance to decide the game.”
Gary Neville’s Valencia can put their La Liga woes to one side by completing their passage into the quarters as they hold a 4-0 lead over Granada.