Perhaps it was the sexy new away strips they were sporting, maybe it was the knowledge that they were undoubtedly stronger than their opponents, or it may have been the sense of occasion due to Dani Jarque’s presence in everyone’s minds. Whatever the reason, Espanyol oozed confidence from the kickoff last night at the Swissporarena.
David Gallego had opted for what was on paper a fairly conservative 4-4-2 formation, but the truth is Espanyol were perfectly designed to break down their opponents and managed to keep them on the back foot for the vast majority of the encounter.
Luzern’s keeper had already tested his reflexes before Melendo tiptoed into the right hand side of the box on 28 minutes, before dinking a wee ball across the edge of the six yard box for Chucky Fereyra to stoop and head in. 1-0.
Espanyol were in complete control at half time and it was tough to see how Luzern could get back into the tie. You can never be sure in football though, so it was particularly heartening to see how Espanyol kept the Swiss side on the ropes as the second half got underway.
The pressure paid off on 59 minutes when Dídac sauntered into the left hand side of the box, looked around hopelessly for a teammate to square it to, came to terms with the futility of his isolation, and eventually resigned himself to lashing the ball into the roof of the net like a man screaming into the void. 2-0.
Gallego played a greatest hits set from the bench, bringing on Darder, Vargas and finally Wu Lei as an encore. The clock was ticking down on the Swiss.
Vargas, worryingly nicknamed “little monkey” seemed particularly keen to impress as he buzzed around behind the front two. With him cutting in from the left onto his right foot, and the left-footed Melendo doing the same on the opposite side of the pitch, Espanyol looked, if anything, even more dangerous. Even more worrying, however, was the way Naldo kept grabbing Vargas by the ears whenever he got anywhere near him.
With 89 minutes on the board, as if in answer to the commentators’ wondering whether there was anything left to play for in the second leg, Vargas jinked away from his marker and very deliberately curled a powerful shot into the far top corner. The kind of goal you dream of scoring on your debut. 3-0, blow the whistle ref, this one’s over.
An ideal result for Espanyol and they will be able to soak up the adulation of the fans in the second leg next Thursday, before preparing for the more considerable challenge of an opening league match against Sevilla three days later.
Man of the match: Vargas stole it with that strike.
Now have a look for yourself:
See you tomorrow!