MADRID (Reuters) – Barcelona and Espanyol have fought out a couple of brutal derbies in recent weeks and the bitter city rivals are seeking to calm the waters ahead of Wednesday’s King’s Cup last-16 second leg.
Espanyol held visiting Barca to a 0-0 draw in La Liga on Jan. 2 before the Cup holders thumped them 4-1 in last week’s first leg at the Nou Camp.
Both games were littered with fouls and yellow cards, Espanyol had two players sent off in the Cup clash, with Barca forward Luis Suarez banned for two matches following a fracas in the tunnel after the final whistle.
The rivalry between the clubs has sharpened over Catalonia’s continuing campaign for independence from Spain, with Barca seen as a symbol of the region’s separatist ambitions and Espanyol fiercely loyal to the central government in Madrid.
The Catalan parliament swore in a new separatist leader on Sunday, putting the pro-independence movement’s commitment to break with Spain over the next 18 months back on track.
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique and counterpart Constantin Galca of Espanyol will meet and hold a photo session on Tuesday in an attempt to ease tensions.
“I want football to be the only protagonist as that is what the spectator deserves,” Luis Enrique told a news conference after Saturday’s 4-0 La Liga win at home to Granada.
“I am open to speaking to Galca to try to lighten the mood if necessary,” added the former Barca and Spain midfielder.
Espanyol president Joan Collet urged fans not to get carried away, warning them that the club faced sanctions if insults were heard during the game.
“We are clear in our minds that the tie is very tough for us but we have to ease the tension,” Collet said.
The last 16 of this year’s competition features two other derbies.
Atletico Madrid and Rayo Vallecano are level at 1-1 after last week’s first leg, with the return at the Calderon in the Spanish capital on Thursday.
Sevilla have a 2-0 lead from the first leg at Real Betis, who sacked their coach Pepe Mel on Sunday, before they meet at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium on Wednesday.
Villarreal need to overturn a 3-2 deficit when they host Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, while Gary Neville’s Valencia lead Granada 4-0 before Thursday’s return in Andalusia.
Two non-La Liga sides have survived, with second-division Mirandes and Deportivo La Coruna tied at 1-1.
Third-tier Cadiz, who went through after Real Madrid were expelled for fielding an ineligible player, look certain to be eliminated after losing 3-0 at home to Celta Vigo.
(Writing by Iain Rogers, editing by Ken Ferris)