Espanyol eye bursting Barca’s bubble once more
Espanyol travel to La Liga leaders Barcelona on Sunday aiming to repeat their feat of denying their bitter local rivals the title in 2007.
Barca hold the slenderest of advantages in the title race with two games remaining as they lead Atletico Madrid thanks to their better head-to-head record with Real Madrid a point behind in third.
In eerily similar circumstances Barca were embroiled in a three-way title race with Sevilla and Real when Espanyol travelled to the Camp Nou on the penultimate day of the season nine years ago.
Then a last minute equaliser from Raul Tamudo snatched the title from Barca’s grasp and allowed Real to be crowned champions the following weekend.
Tamudo’s strike has gone down in Espanyol folklore as the “Tamudazo” and has become more popular than even the goals he hit to land the club their last two trophies in the Copa del Rey finals of 2000 and 2006.
After a 1-0 win over Sevilla last weekend to move to the brink of mathematically sealing their survival in the top flight, Espanyol fans chanted “we want another Tamudazo” whilst the players celebrated.
“I am dreaming about that,” said Espanyol striker Felipe Caicedo when asked about the possibility of repeating Tamudo’s strike.
“We know the difficulties of playing there, but I am a striker and I live to score.
“The dressing room is thinking about mathematically securing survival. If we achieve that the consequence will be taking the title from Barcelona.”
However, Barcelona have recovered from their alarming dip of three consecutive league defeats last month to stay on top by scoring 16 goals without reply in their three games since.
“We don’t fear a Tamudazo. With the fans behind us we expect to get the job done,” said Barca defender Jordi Alba.
“We never thought the league was won. It is very tight, our rivals aren’t slipping up and it is in our hands.”
Barca boss Luis Enrique is expected to make just one change from the side that started the 2-0 win over Real Betis last weekend with Marc-Andre ter Stegen replacing the injured Claudio Bravo in goal.
In contrast to Atletico and Real, Barca also have the advantage of having had a free midweek to prepare, whilst the sides from the capital were busy booking their places in the Champions League final.
However, only a Barca win allied to an Atletico defeat and Real dropping points will allow the Catalans to be proclaimed champions on Sunday.
Atletico were involved in a far more intense European tie as they clung on despite a 2-1 defeat to Bayern Munich on Tuesday to qualify on away goals.
Coach Diego Simeone at least has a fully-fit squad to choose from for their visit to already relegated Levante.
However, Atletico haven’t won in their last five trips to Levante, including a 2-0 defeat when they were going for the title in 2014.
“Levante are professional and will be playing for pride,” said Atletico defender Filipe Luis.
“I have bad memories of that stadium and I hope to settle the score.
“Winning that match and next week means we will have done our part.”
Real Madrid have bigger injury concerns as the in-form Gareth Bale has been ruled out for Valencia’s visit to the Santiago Bernabeu with a sprained knee joint.
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas is also out with an achilles problem, whilst Karim Benzema and Casemiro are doubts having missed the 1-0 win over Manchester City that sealed their place in the Champions League final on Wednesday.
Valencia have endured a horrible season to finish outside the European places, but have drawn at the Bernabeu in each of their last four visits in La Liga.
There are also huge clashes at the bottom with four teams realistically fighting to avoid joining Levante in the second division next season.
The two currently in the relegation zone face each other as Getafe host Sporting Gijon.
Rayo Vallecano therefore need to get at least a point to avoid slipping into the bottom three when they visit Real Sociedad.
Granada are a point outside the drop zone, but are also in desperate need of a win away to Sevilla because they host a Barcelona side going for the title on the final day of the season next weekend.
Fixtures (all 1500GMT kick-off Sunday)
Real Sociedad v Rayo Vallecano, Real Madrid v Valencia, Villarreal v Deportivo la Couna, Getafe v Sporting Gijon, Eibar v Real Betis, Barcelona v Espanyol, Sevilla v Granada, Las Palmas v Athletic Bilbao, Celta Vigo v Malaga, Levante v Atletico Madrid.