The final countdown: Espanyol and Sevilla

There are only a few hours to go until Espanyol get their 19/20 LaLiga campaign underway, but you’ve still got time to brush up for the sports round in your local pub quiz by revising our LaLiga previews:

Part one: Alavés, Athletic Bilbao and Atlético Madrid

Part two: Barcelona, Celta Vigo and Eibar

Part three: Getafe, Granada and Leganés

Part four: Levante, Mallorca and Osasuna

Part five: Real Betis, Real Madrid and Real Sociedad

Part six: Valencia, Valladolid and Villarreal

Which leaves us with:

Sevilla

Sevilla live and die by their transfer market sword, and the man who wields that sword is Monchi. Sporting directors in general play a key role at Spanish clubs, with the head coach being just that – they don’t assume the role of recruiter and planner as a manager would. Monchi heads up an extravagant scouting department which focuses on the productivity of players and value for money. I recommend reading Sid Lowe’s piece for the Guardian about Monchi’s role. 

This year, the man tasked with moulding all the new recruits into a cohesive unit is Julen Lopetegui. Yes, him. The national footballing traitor is back, apparently with some bridges left yet to burn. He will be eager for a lively start to the season as, otherwise, the atmosphere in the south could go south quite quickly. 

Despite the annual wholesale changes, Sevilla are remarkably consistent, and the Sánchez Pizjuán has enjoyed an attractive brand of counter-attacking football under coaches like Juande Ramos, Unai Emery, Jorge Sampaoli or Joaquín Caparrós. There is considerable substance underwriting this stylish approach too: Sevilla have won an incredible five Europa League and two Copa del Rey trophies since 2006. At their best, Sevilla are a team that no one in Europe looks forward to facing. For Lopetegui, then, the bar is set high. 

Harry Redknapp’s wheeler dealers 

Assets such as Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco), Pablo Sarabia (PSG), Quincy Promes (Ajax) and Luís Muriel (Atalanta) have all been sold. They have been replaced by prolific strikers Munas Dabbur (Salzburg) and Luuk de Jong (PSV), and wingers Rony Lopes (Monaco) and Lucas Ocampos (Marseille). The decision to loan out both Ibrahim Amadou (Norwich) and Roque Mesa (Leganés) means they look a bit short in the holding midfield position. 

Fernando (Galatasaray), Joan Jordán (Eibar) and Óliver Torres (Porto) could harmonise as a midfield trio, and Jules Koundé (Bordeaux) and Diego Carlos (Nantes) should provide quality in the centre of defence. Sergio Reguilón, who enjoyed a run in the Real Madrid team at Marcelo’s expense at the end of last season, has come in on loan, and sevillanistas hope that this is the year that academy products Bryan Gil and Alejandro Pozo will make an impact. 

Possible starting XI 

Possible Sevilla lineup 19/20

David Bowie’s starman: Munas Dabbur

Dabbur celebrates scoring for RB Salzburg
Dabbur celebrates scoring for RB Salzburg

It’s not easy to pick out a single key individual in what is usually a side greater than the sum of its parts, but, at 27, the Israeli striker has waited for his big break. 151 career goals in 311 appearances suggest that he has earned the opportunity, and the onus will be on him to the replace the goals of the departed Andre Silva and Wissam Ben Yedder. 

Have a look at the full squad on Transfermarkt here

(Modern) moment of glory

In Juande Ramos’ two seasons at Sevilla they finished 4th and 3rd in the league, and won the UEFA Cup twice. The second of these titles came after beating Espanyol in the final.

Sevilla beat Espanyol on penalties in the 2007 UEFA Cup final

That Sevilla team, featuring Luís Fabiano and Dani Alves, was the one that opened the floodgates and brought belief to Sevilla fans.

Two of the players who played that day, Antonia Puerta and Dani Jarque, have since passed away. The tenth anniversary of the death of Dani Jarque was marked by Espanyol earlier this month. Antonio Puerta suffered a cardiac arrest during a match in 2007. He was taken to hospital but died three days later as a result of a hereditary heart disease. Both of these were tragedies which came out of the blue, and the respective clubs were reminded of these events earlier this year when José Antonio Reyes, who represented both teams during a glittering career, died in a traffic accident. Espanyol have remembered all three in the build up to this evening’s LaLiga match between the two sides.

Puerta, Reyes and Jarque are remembered by RCD Espanyol

FiveThirtyEight forecast: 5th


Espanyol

And finally back home to Espanyol. There is an air of positivity and ambition around RCDE stadium this year. The team has qualified for European competition for the first time in 12 years, and the popular former B-team coach, David Gallego, has been appointed to replace the outgoing Rubi. 

What’s more, Espanyol have blasted their way through Europa League qualifying so far, beating Stjarnan and Luzern by scoring 13 goals and conceding just one over the four matches. So what can we realistically expect from the blanc i blau this season?

Harry Redknapp’s wheeler dealers

From within there is belief and trust, but from outside things may not seem so rosy. Top scorer Borja Iglesias and Spanish international defender Mario Hermoso have been sold to La Liga rivals Real Betis and Atlético Madrid respectively. Fans were pleased to see the club insisting on hefty fees for the pair, but theirs are big boots to fill.

Fernando Calero has been signed from Valladolid as a direct replacement for Hermoso. He is a ball-playing centre-back who should slot right in, but is yet to make his Espanyol debut. The fans are anxious to see him in action, but Gallego seems content for him to take his time. Borja Iglesias scored 17 league goals last year, which, for a team like Espanyol, can be the difference between a relegation scrap and qualifying for Europe. The club are still working to find an adequate replacement, with fans getting excited about rumoured approaches for Mariano Díaz (Real Madrid), Andre Silva (Milan), or Simone Zaza (Torino), and reacting somewhat less enthusiastically to links with Cristhian Stuani (Girona), Jaime Mata (Getafe) and Jonathan Calleri (Deportivo Maldonado). Sporting director Rufete and his team have little over two weeks left to get something over the line.

For the time being, then, Facundo Ferreyra and Wu Lei will have to step up. Both have been scoring for fun in preseason and Ferreyra, having been frozen out under Rubi, could be like a new signing himself. The Argentinian scored 60 goals in 115 appearances for Shakhtar Donetsk, so has the pedigree. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Well, the hour is fast approaching and we’ll soon see whether “Chucky” is in fact the striker Espanyol are looking for.

Elsewhere, the squad has been strengthened nicely with the additions of winger Matías “Monito” Vargas (Vélez Sarsfield), midfielder Ander Iturraspe (Bilbao), goalkeeper Andrés Prieto (Leganés) and centre-back Bernardo (Girona, on loan). 

The main area of concern is at right-back. Javi López is the kind of player who is often described as a “servant of the club”, along with such luminaries as Tony Hibbert. A more dynamic option is required, and Pipa, now 21 years old, doesn’t seem to be it. The answer, again, may be under our noses. Víctor Gómez is only 19, but was outstanding in Spain’s victorious Euro under-19 campaign this summer. (Yes, Spain won under-19 and under-21 titles. The future is bright, the future is red.) Supporters are divided on whether Víctor should be thrown in at the deep end, or another signing is required. Time will tell what el míster thinks.

Possible starting XI

Possible Espanyol starting lineup 19/20
Possible Espanyol starting lineup 19/20

David Bowie’s starman: Marc Roca

Marc Roca in action for Espanyol
Marc Roca in action for Espanyol

Espanyolistas won’t sleep easy until the transfer window creaks shut on September 2nd. Marc Roca, a stylish midfielder in the classic Spanish mould, has a realease clause of 40 million euros which could tempt some deep-pocketed club like Bayern Munich into making an international transfer.

Have a look at the full squad on Transfermarkt here.

(Modern) moment of glory

Look no further than the final day of last season, when Espanyol clinched a European place.

Espanyol beat Real Sociedad to qualify for the Europa League

Which prompted the obligatory scenes:

Pitch invasion o’clock

FiveThirtyEight forecast: 12th

We’e seen all the runners and riders and it just remains to be seen whether the going is good. Join us later for team news ahead of Espanyol vs Sevilla.

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