Saturday’s match between league leaders Barcelona and Espanyol will be an intriguing affair for a number of reasons. The Catalan derby is a fiercely contested match, and perhaps will be more so this time around considering each team’s circumstances.
Barcelona have enjoyed a fine start to their La Liga campaign. Xavi Hernandez’s men sit atop the league following the mid-season break, two points ahead of Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid. In contrast, Espanyol have had a tough start. Sitting in 16th place and out of the relegation places by just a single point, Diego Martinez’s side have struggled with keeping goals out, having conceded 22 in their opening 14 games.
They’ve managed just 16 goals in that time too, which will be another concern to Martinez. One of the men that Periquitos rely on in the forward department is former Barca player Martin Braithwaite. The Danish international joined the club from their city rivals in the summer, but has yet to find his shooting boots.
Saturday’s match will be the first time with Braithwaite has faced his former side since departing. As with situations like this, players are often to get one over their former employers. For Braithwaite, this is not the case. Speaking to Football España, he was keen to play down its significance from a personal perspective, and insisted that his full focus is on helping Espanyol overcome their city rivals.
“For me, it’s just a football match. Obviously, it’s special because it’s against my former team but I feel relaxed and I’m looking forward to the game. It’s a special game for both teams, it’s a derby, and it’s an opportunity to end the year with a bang.
“There’s no feeling of revenge. It’s always special when you play against your former team, but I will play the same way that I always do. I’m not focused on doing better because it’s Barcelona. I always want to do as well as possible, and this game is no different. I will approach it with a relaxed mindset, but with a mindset to win.”
For a player of his quality, Braithwaite will be disappointed with his output for his new club since joining in September. So far this season, he has netted three times in nine appearances in La Liga. His last goal for club or country came against bottom club Elche in a 2-2 draw on the 23rd of October, over two months ago. On his lack of goals, the Danish forward was keen to focus more on the help that he can give for the team rather than his own individual statistics.
“Of course, I want to score but mostly I want to win. I don’t think about it being two months since I scored, as we haven’t had a game in over six weeks. I want to score but I want to win more. If I score and we don’t win, then my goal doesn’t matter. The only thing that I wish for is three points.”
However, he was bullish on his own form, stating he has the belief to turn his individual performances around.
“Naturally, I will score goals. It doesn’t matter if it’s against Barcelona or another team, I know that I will score. That’s the type of person that I am.”
Having been at Espanyol for almost four months, Braithwaite has afforded himself the opportunity to reflect on both his former and current employers. When comparing his time at Barcelona to his spell at Espanyol so far, he highlighted one key difference.
“(Espanyol) are a different club in size compared to Barcelona. There’s a lot less media exposure too. When you’re at Barcelona, if you scratch yourself in the butt, then it will be in the newspapers!”
One of Braithwaite’s former teammates at Barcelona is Lionel Messi. The Argentine is the most talked about man in world football at the moment, having finally won the World Cup at the final time of asking, aged 35. Asked for his feelings on Messi’s triumph, Braithwaite was full of praise for the Argentine captain’s performances in Qatar.
“(Messi) was efficient. He did want he needed to do for his team. He came up with big goals and I think that Argentina deserved to win the tournament. I’m happy for him. I think the World Cup was the only thing missing in his career and now he has done everything that you can do as a footballer.”
Braithwaite also recounted his experiences with Messi when the two shared the same dressing room, sharing his first impressions of the Barcelona legend.
“When I signed for Barcelona, he was one of the first guys to come see me and ask me if everything was good. He made me feel comfortable at the club, and it shows that he is something that is really down to earth. Everyone knows who he is but in the dressing room, he is completely calm and humble.”
When it comes to Saturday’s match, Braithwaite’s full focus will be on getting a result at the Camp Nou. Even with no added incentive of wanting to defeat his former club, any footballer will want to defeat their fierce rivals. Especially for Espanyol, who are in a relegation dogfight where every point counts.