Aguirre’s Pericos a different proposition

In May last year, Mauricio Pochettino's Espanyol were beaten 4-0 at the Camp Nou by Josep Guardiola's Barcelona. It was Pep's last home match in front of the 90,000 fans who came to worship his side every other weekend – on Sunday night the two sides meet for the first time since, with both having undergone managerial changes.

The Blanquiazules have seen not just the most recent overhaul, but also the most prominent one as things stand. Mexican Javier Aguirre replaced Pochettino at the end of November and it is very much a case of so far, so good for the new Coach ahead of a daunting hop across the city when La Liga resumes this weekend.

The change at the top was needed. Heading into 2012 Espanyol were seventh and looking up, rather than down the table, but their season faded badly after Christmas and that poor form continued into the current campaign. An average attendance of nearly 27,000 has dropped to below 20,000, whilst a recent Copa del Rey fixture against Sevilla saw just 7,463 come through the turnstiles.

Since Aguirre's appointment, Espanyol’s form has been such that they can arrive into the weekend with their tails up, on the back of a mini-revival. Unbeaten since he took the hot-seat – including a 2-2 draw at Real Madrid last month – the 54-year-old will be full of encouragement heading into a fixture where few will give the debt-ridden club a chance.

The last calendar year came to a close with a comfortable, if not always completely simple, win over fellow relegation-strugglers Deportivo La Coruna 2-0 at Cornella and the three points saw them climb to third from bottom in La Liga. Right now, it's as good as it's been for them all season.
Survival though, does not depend on a result at Camp Nou, although the benefits it could reap are obvious. Aside from the confidence it would breathe into a squad already starting to believe again, the club may hope that it will go some way to luring numbers back into their 40,000-seat stadium.

Since that meeting back in May, their cross-city rivals’ own managerial change has seen a seamless handing of the baton from Pep to Tito Vilanova. Although 2012 ended with the bad news of Tito's relapse, 2013 has began with the good news that he is already back taking first team training, desperate to be in the dug out for the ‘Derbi Barceloni’.

Although recent history may favour Barcelona, you don't have to delve back too far to find Espanyol's last victory in this fixture. At Camp Nou in February 2009 an Ivan De La Pena double saw La Blaugrana defeated 2-1 – what Javier Aguirre would do for a similar cameo from Joan Verdu or Sergio Garcia this weekend.

The book may have closed on Guardiola vs. Pochettino, but on Sunday night it will be time for Chapter One of Vilanova vs. Aguirre. May the best man win.