Wu Lei, the star of Chinese football, and Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, meet for the first time in Saturday afternoon’s Barcelona v Espanyol LaLiga Santander derby at the Camp Nou.
The game is set to be the biggest of new Espanyol forward Wu’s career, coming off the back of his impressive start to life in the Catalan capital. The China international’s performances so far for his new side suggest that the local rivals and current LaLiga leaders will have to watch him very carefully.
On the other hand, Messi needs no introduction to LaLiga fans worldwide, and especially not to Espanyol supporters. The current Barcelona captain is the all-time record Catalan capital derby scorer with 20 goals, including two hat-tricks and a four goal ‘poker’ in 2011/12.
The Argentine’s two most recent derby goals came back in December, during the two teams’ first LaLiga meeting of 2018/19 at the RCDE Stadium. Barcelona won 4-0, with Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez also on the scoresheet.
December's last meeting with Barça came at a bad time for Espanyol, who had been riding high in the LaLiga Santander standings through the autumn. Injuries and loss of form saw coach Rubi’s team win just one of 10 league games to drop towards the relegation battle, however results have swung back more positively in recent months.
A catalyst for this revival was Espanyol’s Chinese owners Rastar Managerial Group bringing Wu to the club in January. On debut at Villarreal the forward made an immediate impact off the bench, helping his team come from 2-0 down to draw 2-2. The 27-year old’s next game saw him fouled for a penalty in a 2-1 victory over Rayo Vallecano.