Another match day, another chance for Espanyol to put in the truly impressive performance that everyone is waiting for. Some fans and critics would have you believe that aesthetic excellence is more important than the result itself, and Gallego could rest easy if only his team could produce some attractive attacking football. EFB has its doubts about the veracity of these claims, as much as we would love to see the team suddenly convert itself into a fluid passing machine.
The Real Sociedad squad arrived in Barcelona yesterday evening, and cannot be relied upon to provide pliant opposition this season. They come into the match on seven points, having picked up wins against Atlético Madrid and Mallorca, and a well earned draw in Valencia on the opening day. Their only defeat so far came in the Basque derby, going down 2-0 to Athletic Bilbao at San Mamés. If that match was the blueprint for success against the Txuri-urdinak, then the outlook for Espanyol is bleak. Bilbao were a frenetic storm that day, in the same way that the blanc-i-blau have been a light drizzle so far this campaign.
Espanyol team news
The big news is the return of David López, included in a match day squad for the first time since early March. Naldo misses out after his soft red card in Eibar, and rotation will likely be the name of the game once more.
We’d expect Calero, Darder and Víctor Sánchez to come into the side, while Wu Lei may start on the bench after playing the full 90 minutes against Ferencváros on Thursday. Espanyol have at least looked more solid with a 4-4-2 formation in the last couple of matches, and it would be a surprise if Gallego was to stray from this set-up this afternoon. The less adventurous Dídac may keep his place at left-back, with Pedrosa a potent weapon from the bench.
Real Sociedad team news
Captain Asier Illaramendi is out injured, but in Merino and Zubeldía La Real possess ideal replacements. The former will try to control the midfield zone, while the latter will be charged with bringing the ball out from the back. Martin Odegaard has been the standout performer so far, and will drift out to the right wing to dovetail with Portu. Oyarzabal is the class act in this side and will play off Isak or Willian José up front. Neither of the strikers have opened their goalscoring accounts yet, and this is the only area of doubt in Imanol Alguacil’s selection.
What to expect
From a tactical perspective, it will be an interesting battle for possession, as both sides like to control the game in this way. The visitors should be fresher, having had all week to prepare, but this is not an excuse that Espanyol can continue to use throughout the season. Gallego needs to find an effective way to rotate his squad and get the best out of the possible combinations.
If it is a case of hearts rather than heads, then the overwhelmingly positive memories of the convincing 2-0 home win in May should play in the home side’s favour.
If you’re not up for it after that, then you never will be. Let’s get behind the team (we’re looking at you, the reported 10,000 season ticket holders who had better things to do than make their way to RCDE stadium this past Thursday), and perhaps reserve the whistling and jeering as a desperate last resort. We feel that the recent criticism has been disproportionate. Losing 0-3 at home to a team like Granada will certainly encourage this kind of behaviour, but are we really suggesting that Gallego should be turfed out before the end of September? He may or may not go on to have success with this team, but he has been appointed as Espanyol coach and must at least be given the chance.
It does feel a bit make or break today though. ¡Vamos Espanyol!