Puyol: League not won yet
Barcelona captain Carles Puyol has sounded a note of caution ahead of his side's derby clash at home to city rivals Espanyol tomorrow by saying: "The league is not won yet."
Barça take an eight-point lead over fierce rivals Real Madrid into the 25th round of matches and that is effectively nine due to the side's superior head-to-head record against Jose Mourinho's men. If Madrid fail to beat Sevilla at the Sanchez Pizjuan tonight, a Barça win over Espanyol tomorrow will see Pep Guardiola's side crowned champions for a third year in a row.
If Madrid win, however, Barça will have to wait - at least until the midweek fixture at Levante. "It's important for us to win the three points," Puyol said. "The league isn't won yet and it will be good if we could win it as soon as possible."
Espanyol, however, are a notoriously difficult rival for Barcelona. Mauricio Pochettino's side are still chasing a place in next season's UEFA Europa League and always seem to raise their game against city rivals Barça in any case. "We know they will make it difficult - they always do," Puyol said. "It will be an intense match and we will need to be at our best to get a result."
Barça lost the final of the Copa del Rey to Madrid in mid-April, but the Catalans are still on for a La Liga and UEFA Champions League double after beating Mourinho's side 3-1 over two legs in the teams' European semi-final to set up a meeting with Manchester United in the Wembley showpiece at the end of the month.
That success was tarnished by accusations against both sides of unsporting conduct, with Barcelona heavily criticised in the local and international media for their theatrics and play-acting on the pitch. "I don't listen," Puyol said. "I don't like that we are accused of such things, but I'm not worried."
Bojan Krkic is back in training for Barça and the young striker could feature against Espanyol. "Bojan is much better - it's very good news," Guardiola said today.
Adriano and Maxwell are set to miss out, however, while Eric Abidal could play a bigger part after coming on as a late substitute in the second leg draw against Madrid on Tuesday night to make his first appearance since undergoing an operation to remove a tumour from his liver in April.
Espanyol have injury problems of their own, but coach Pochettino has become accustomed to missing numerous players this term. Ivan de la Pena, Sergio Garcia, Raul Baena, David Garcia and Jesus Datolo are all out, although Javi Lopez is back again after a ban.
Luis Garcia is also available and the Asturian forward says he hopes his side can win for the club's fans. "Our fans gets excited by winning in the Nou Camp," he said.
"To stop them from becoming champions in a derby would be special, but it's difficult as they are likely to win it sooner or later. We just have to think about our own interests."