MADRID, December 20 – Barcelona will begin 2011 as favourites to retain the Spanish league title after ending this year with an emphatic 5-1 drubbing of city rivals Espanyol on Saturday to stay two points clear of Real Madrid going into the two-week Christmas break.
Barcelona have scored 26 goals in their last five league matches, including the extraordinary 5-0 mauling of Real at Camp Nou, winning ten successive league matches to make it 43 points from a possible 48, three points more than at this stage last season when they went on to set a record 99 points.
Espanyol had a perfect home record prior to the game and had only conceded two goals at the Cornella-El Prat, but Spanish World Cup winners Pedro Rodriguez and David Villa both grabbed braces in a one-sided Catalan derby.
"They had only conceded two goals at home before this game," said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. "Espanyol are at the top and it is not by coincidence.
"It is a great night for us, not just because we beat a local rival but also because we have beaten a great team. It is not a coincidence that we have struggled at this ground in recent years.
"My team never cease to surprise me. You see how they prepare for the games. They are great players and have the mental calmness that they have done a lot in football."
Barcelona maintained their perfect away record of eight wins with the Espanyol rout and it was a particularly special night for Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta.
He was given a standing ovation by the home crowd that remembered his touching World Cup final tribute to former Espanyol captain Dani Jarque – who died of a heart attack on August 8, 2009, at the age of 26.
After scoring a late extra-time winner for Spain in the final, Iniesta lifted up his jersey to reveal a t-shirt for his close friend Jarque, declaring: "Dani Jarque, always with us".
"It’s a very nice feeling to be so well received," said Iniesta. "I could feel the fans’ warmth towards me down on the pitch and I’m happy that they showed that people can rise above any rivalry."
Commenting on the performance, Iniesta, one of three Barcelona players shortlisted for the Ballon D’Or along with Xavi and Lionel Messi, admitted the margin of the win was a surprise to everyone.
"We didn’t expect such a big win because these games are always so intense and tight, but we took advantage of the spaces we were given and the front men were on target," he explained.
"I’d like to think that we can still grow and go on to win even more titles. There’s still a long way to go and we have to ensure we keep going till the end of the season."
Brazilian full back Dani Alves chose to have a dig at Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho over his recent comment to the press that he would give himself 11 out of ten for 2010 after lifting a historic treble with Inter Milan.
"I would give Barcelona a 12 out of ten to be above (Jose) Mourinho," said Alves.