Pique set to return for Espanyol clash

Barcelona centre-back Gerard Pique is set to return for Friday evening’s Catalan derby at home to Espanyol, but full-back Adriano Correia is out with a hamstring problem.

Pique was rested for Tuesday’s 3-0 Primera Division win at Celta Vigo, but is expected to return to the starting lineup for the game at the Camp Nou, as coach Gerardo Martino continues with his rotation policy.

Martino’s switches should also see Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Neymar and Javier Mascherano brought back into the team, while Carles Puyol, Marc Bartra, Cesc Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez could be among those to make way.

Martin Montoya, who replaced Adriano in the game at Balaidos, is set to deputise out of position on the left of the defence, as first-choice left-back Jordi Alba remains sidelined with a hamstring injury.

The Blaugrana coach did not give too much team news away at his pre-game news conference on Thursday, but he did warn that Espanyol, who have developed a tough reputation under Mexican coach Javier Aguirre, can also play attractive football.

“One of Espanyol’s characteristics is to be warrior-like and combative, but when they have the ball they can grow with players like Sergio Garcia, Pizzi and Simao who can play,” Martino said. “They stand out for their fighting qualities, but you must be wary of them when they have the ball.”

Barca go into the game top of the Primera Division standings, one point clear of Atletico Madrid, with Real Madrid a further four points back in third spot. Espanyol, who beat Atletico 1-0 recently, but have since lost 3-0 at Levante and drawn 0-0 at home to Malaga, are in eighth.

Aguirre will be able to call on combative midfielder David Lopez, who has not yet been banned for picking up five yellow cards this season as La Liga's disciplinary committee had Friday off due to the official Halloween holiday in Spain and Catalonia.

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