Decepción, from the latin deceptio, deceptionis: deception, fraud, or the feeling associated with either of the above. In other words, disappointment.
This was the overwhelming sentiment at RCDE stadium yesterday evening after Espanyol were largely outplayed to open their LaLiga campaign with a 0-2 home defeat at the hands of Sevilla. Fans had been deceived by the four goleadas in the Europa League qualifying rounds into thinking that Espanyol would demonstrate some attacking verve, entirely absent in the event. They were defrauded too, by Sevilla players who managed to waste a large portion of the match suffering, and slowly recovering from, various ailments.
There was some disappointment with the starting lineup named by David Gallego, particularly regarding the omission of Sergi Darder in favour of the somewhat more technically limited Víctor Sánchez. From the start, Espanyol were overrun in midfield by Fernando, Óliver Torres and, in particular, Joan Jordán. The former perico has developed into a powerful machine in the centre of the park and won’t shy away from any physical challenges this season.
The main source of danger for Sevilla was down the left flank, where Nolito held his position high and wide, only to cut in to create space for the overlapping Sergio Reguilón. The quick switches of play caused problems for Espanyol time and again, without creating any clear-cut opportunities. As we have previously mentioned, right-back Javi López is the weak link in this Espanyol side, and Sevilla were clearly intent on exploiting this frailty.
The early stages were marked more by the various acts of remembrance in the stadium than by any decisive action on the pitch. Pre-match, there was a minute’s silence for “players, fans and members of the club who passed away last season”, followed by a full minute’s applause for José Antonio Reyes, Antonio Puerta and Dani Jarque in the 9th, 16th and 21st minute respectively.
Midway through the opening period, referee Juan Martínez Munuera paused play so the players could have a drink and catch the banter at the side of the pitch. This water break is allowed in LaLiga whenever temperatures are “notably high”. 30 degrees, and the kind of air you can stir with a spoon, meant it was a sensible option in Barcelona yesterday.
Seemingly refreshed, Espanyol made a couple of exploratory incursions into enemy territory, with hopeful efforts from Matías Vargas and Ferreyra repelled by Vaclik in goal for Sevilla. Espanyol were racking up the corners, but a combination of poor delivery from Víctor Sánchez, and the towering presence of Sevilla players like Jordán, Fernando, Diego Carlos and de Jong, made it difficult to see a breakthrough coming from that direction.
With the clock ticking towards halftime, Espanyol defenders’ thoughts turned to another refreshing sip of H2O, and more stimulating conversation. Jesús Navas, never one for small talk, nipped in behind on the right and found Luuk de Jong inside the six yard box. Diego López saved his header brilliantly, the Dutchman hoicked the rebound onto the bar, and, as the ball looped up, the Espanyol defenders were sucked, enthralled, towards their own goal line. The ball saved them the problem of dealing with a tricky clearance by rebounding once more off the crossbar, and falling perfectly for Reguilón, who poked home easily from a couple of yards. He had the goal his performance had merited. 0-1.
Time for Espanyol to regroup, then, and halftime was just what the doctor ordered. The conversation must have once again been uplifting, as they began the second period on the front foot. Creativity was still an issue, but if a goal was going to come from anywhere it would be down their own left flank pairing of Matías Vargas and Dídac. The latter was slightly less inept than Javi López on the opposite side of the defence throughout the encounter.
In the 54th minute Diego Carlos and Facundo Ferreyra contested a ball in the Sevilla penalty area. The referee immediately blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. Salvation! Alas, it would turn out to be salvation of the ephemeral, VAR-plagued variety. After the now-customary pause for reflection, hydration and conversation, the referee revealed his error, and instead rewarded Sevilla with an uncontested drop-ball. Considering the ball had still been loose on the edge of the box, with Melendo closing in, when the whistle was blown, this seemed scant consolation indeed.
The fallout from this perceived justice/injustice was a period of robust challenges and decidedly less robust reactions. It wasn’t so much that Sevilla players were rolling around on the floor, as merely lying prostrate for a good couple of minutes after each altercation. Martínez Munuera evidently decided that no one had anything better to be doing anyway, and enthusiastically waved on the physio at the slightest encouragement. All players seemed to recover full use of their legs, but Ocampos eventually decided he liked the idea of a more permanent rest and was replaced by Munir.
David Gallego responded by bringing on Darder for Sánchez, and Campuzano for Wu Lei. The Chinese forward had had nine touches, so couldn’t really complain. His strike partner Ferreyra managed 19 in the whole match, most of which were in his own half. Whether Espanyol can afford to have two players who are so passive in the buildup in the starting lineup is certainly food for thought. The effect of these changes was negligible, and the threat of Nolito and Reguilón on the counter-attack began to loom large once more.
There had been a couple of warning shots by the time Gallego showed he had one more trick up his sleeve. With eight minutes left he withdrew centre-forward Ferreyra and threw on centre-back Calero, making his debut here. The traitor Lopetegui looked along the touchline as if to say, “you serious, bro?”. The straight-laced David Gallego, a wearer of plain shirts and chinos, was perhaps in this way finding an outlet for his hidden alternative tendencies, and expressing his individualism. It was probably a question of wrong time, wrong place, though, as something approaching a 3-4-3 failed to make any headway against a resolute Sevilla rearguard.
Koundé and Gudelj had already come on for Sevilla to make it a total of nine debutants on the day by the time clock reached 86 minutes, and the Espanyol defence was caught with their minds on other things once more. Reguilón took at relatively quick throw to Nolito, who weaved through the statuesque Espanyol defenders like a Sunday league player avoiding divots in the pitch, before firing clinically into the bottom corner. 0-2.
The chances of a comeback from the home team were somewhere between miniscule and non-existent. The officials clearly agreed, and decided to add on only six minutes of stoppage time, despite having overseen a two-minute water break and treatment for innumerable “injuries”. It probably didn’t matter anyway, Sevilla had looked far superior whenever they had deigned to play football.
Final score: Espanyol 0 – 2 Sevilla
Scorers: Reguilón 44, Nolito 86
Minutes spent playing football: 50
Minutes spent drinking water and engaging in intellectual debates: 40
VAR-related headaches: 1
Thumbs up: Matías Vargas, Diego López.
*Shakes head*: Javi López, Víctor Sánchez, Lluís López.