European football is coming home to RCDE stadium this evening as the Europa League group stage gets underway. The fixture list for this competition is:
With these matches spaced out over three months, it is impossible to tell what shape Espanyol will be in by the time we welcome CSKA Moscow on the final match day. Let’s take advantage of the momentum from the weekend and the enthusiasm of the fans, back in Europe after 12 long years, to set our stall out before the trip to Russia next month. Hungarian champions Ferencváros won’t be a walkover, but who are they exactly?
One man who won’t be overawed by the occasion is their manager, Serhiy Rebrov. A giant of Ukrainian football, he of course played in the legendary Dynamo Kyiv side which reached the Champions League quarter finals in 97/98 and semis in 98/99, losing out to Juventus and Bayern respectively. Forming a formidable strike partnership with Andriy Shevchenko, he actually has form as a Barça-beater. Already in the Dynamo side aged 19 in ‘94, he got his eye in with a goal at the Camp Nou as Barcelona progressed in the first round tie. Three years later he would have his revenge, opening the scoring in a 3-0 rout in Kyiv in the revamped Champions League, and rounding off the scoring in an incredible 0-4 whitewash in Barcelona a fortnight later.
His dubious reward for his starring role in the greatest ever Ukrainian side was an €18m move to Spurs in 2000. With Kaladze leaving at the same time, and Shevchenko having gone a year earlier, Kyiv’s golden era was at an end. Rebrov never managed to replicate his form in the way his former teammates did at Milan, and became something of a journeyman before hanging up his boots in 2009.
Where else could he begin his management career begin but at Dynamo? Taking over at the tail end of the 13/14 season, when the team finished fourth, he guided them to the league title in his first two full seasons in charge. In his second year he also took the Ukrainian giants beyond the Champions League group stages for the first time since ‘99, eliminating Porto in the group stage and losing respectably to Man City in the round of 16. In the 16/17 season, however, there were storm clouds on the horizon in Kyiv, and he left the club by mutual consent after finishing as runner-up to rivals Shakhtar Donetsk.
With such an impressive CV he surely had some attractive offers on the table, but the footballing culture and MONEY in Saudi Arabia attracted him to Al Ahli. In his solitary season at the club they finished a point behind Hilal in the Saudi league, before Rebrov cashed his cheque and went home for a well earned vodka.
Perhaps Pálinka is more to his taste though, as he was soon in Budapest to take over at Ferencváros. Last season, they won the Hungarian title by 13 points over reigning champions Fehérvár. This was the first title in three years for the most successful club in Hungary, a country famed for its football history. Having lost to Maccabi Tel Aviv in last season’s Europa League qualifiers, reaching the group stage this time round represents a big improvement, even if they got here via elimination at the hands of Dani Olmo’s Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League qualifiers. A 0-4 loss at home in the second leg was a devastating way to go out, and shows they are far from infallible.
Today’s tenuous link comes in the form of Rebrov’s assistant Albert Bosch, who spent seven years coaching various Espanyol youth teams, working with players like Pol Lozano. He has been with Rebrov since his time in Kyiv, and is thought to be looking forward to an Estrella Damm.
The former Hungary international played at Euro 2016, and once represented Watford in the Premier League. They won one match with Priskin in the side, before being relegated as the worst team in the division. Super sub?
Ferencváros will play a 4-2-3-1. The centre-forward Boli, signed from Staebek this summer to replace top scorer and match-fixer extraordinaire Davide Lanzafame, will aim to disrupt Espanyol’s defence and create space for Zubkov, Tokmac and Varga, who are the real dangermen. They are rubbish defensively, so it would be nice if we do some attacking and that. They actually beat Ludogorets home and away in the first round of the Champions League qualifiers back in July, so they might not even be the weakest side in the group.
The green eagles will be well supported by a bunch of bald nutters with “Monsters” helpfully written on their t-shirts. These giants of a different variety embrace the ultra and hooligan culture to a worrying degree, meaning EFB is glad it sits at the opposite end of the ground.
Espanyol team news
Not everything is rosy in the blanc-i-blau garden, with Iturraspe, David López, Piatti, Ferreyra and Corchia all missing through injury. David Gallego has decided to leave out Calero, Puado and Pipa from his squad list as he whittled it down to the required 18.
This means that captain Javi López will continue at right back, with either Lluís López or Bernardo coming in to partner Naldo in central defence. Pedrosa should theoretically resume his role at left-back, although Gallego preferred to use him further upfield ahead of Dídac before his injury. The coach has chopped and changed between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2 in recent weeks, so almost all the midfielders and forwards have a reasonable chance of starting. Personally, we’d like to see Darder, Vargas, Wu Lei and Calleri all on the pitch, because, let’s be honest, we’re rubbish defensively too, so let’s take the game to them.
If you can’t get down to RCDE stadium for 21.00, a dodgy stream of the match will be available from your favourite illegal provider, or on Gol TV in Spain. ¡Vamos Espanyol!