If Dr Jekyll was lending his support to David Gallego in the buildup to Sunday’s match against Real Sociedad at RCDE stadium, I’m afraid Mr Hyde is slowly taking over in the aftermath. Espanyol fell to their third consecutive home league defeat, the first time they have begun a La Liga campaign in this way since 1947. For the fifth time in the last eight games, they fell behind in the first half. Of those matches, they have only salvaged a positive result at home to Zorya Luhansk and Ferencváros in the Europa League. On Sunday, a double from La Real striker Willian José had the visitors enjoying a comfortable two goal lead at the break. There was a brief flash of light at the end of the tunnel when Zaldua thoughtfully scored an own goal with 20 minutes remaining, but Calero effectively returned the favour five minutes later by playing Isak clean through on goal. The Swede’s predictably clinical finish brought the roof of the tunnel crashing down, and all hope was lost. At half time the fans had urged players to “show some balls”. By full time, there were white handkerchiefs in evidence and chants alternated between “proud to be Espanyol”, in contrast to the evidence from the players, and calls for Gallego to do one. Autumn is here and it’s bloody depressing.
Espanyol kicked off looking as if they had been enjoying some Simon & Garfunkel in the changing room, while Real Sociedad started the game pressing high, with the attacking trio of Oyarzabal, Odegaard and Portu showcasing the kind of silky touches you would expect. The blanc-i-blau were fairly resolute and kept them at bay for the opening fifteen minutes, before gaining some courage and venturing into the opposing half. On the very first attack of note, Víctor Sánchez got understandably excited at the sight of three teammates in the box, a rare sight indeed these days, and tried to pick one out with a cross from an advanced position. The cross was collected by Moyà but full marks for trying. Zero marks for Darder’s lacklustre attempt to put pressure on Merino when the keeper rolled the ball out, zero marks for Marc Roca’s failure to cover the hole vacated by Víctor in which Oyarzabal was looming large, and zero marks for Calero letting Willian José get goal side of him on such a predictable counter attack. Diego López couldn’t block the Brazilians chip and it was 0-1.
Espanyol attempted to react – they are surely the most reactive side in La Liga – and got into some dangerous positions such as this:
To Calleri’s credit, he actually managed to win a free kick from this move, from which Darder put in a lacklustre cross. Our patience with the lacklustre Mallorquín is starting to wear thin. This was basically it as far as the reaction went. The quality on display was poor, with several passes straight into touch. Espanyol refused to make it easy on themselves by persevering with the thrilling new tactic of the goalkeeper playing a short ball to a centre-back in a high-pressure situation at every available opportunity.
The next moment of quality was only ever going to come from the visitors, and it proved decisive. Odegaard received the ball on the halfway line and I suppose, if we were being generous, we could say that Marc Roca made a half-hearted attempt to close him down. The Norwegian was on fantastic form in the first half and here he caressed an incisive pass in behind with the outside of his left foot which took Calero completely out of the game. Lluís López and Víctor Sánchez both appeared to be trying to mark Willian José in the middle, so Portu tried to go by himself. Diego López did well to get something on the ball as the winger tried to take it round him, but the keeper’s luck wasn’t in and the ball sat up perfectly for Portu to square to Willian José, who Lluís and Víctor were now conspicuously failing to mark. The goal gaped. 0-2.
Once more, a full-back had been caught out of position, with the rest of the team failing to cover. Once more, the pressure on the ball was, to be perfectly honest, pathetic. Once more, Espanyol had a mountain to climb. Once more, you could count the home side’s attempts of note on one finger, as Dídac fizzed a ball into the six-yard box which Wu Lei couldn’t quite get on the end of. Real Sociedad were now content to sit off and let Espanyol have possession, confident that they could strike on the break. Zaldua thundered another warning on target as half time approached, Diego López just about getting it behind for a corner. Half time came and hopefully someone had smashed up Gallego’s Sound of Silence record and replaced it with some System of a Down. There would certainly have been some Toxicity in the home side’s dressing room.
As we have come to expect, Espanyol did emerge with more intensity and were the dominant side for most of the second half. However, this of course implies a lack of intensity in the first half, and the problem with this is that “intensity” is really just a euphemism for effort. If the team is not making the required effort then they have a huge problem.
For whatever reason, all the “intensity” was saved for the second half once more, with a deficit to overcome. Eventually, Espanyol got the goal their improved performance deserved when substitute Campuzano got in behind on the right, and Zaldua could only turn his drilled cross into his own net. 1-2. The goal had come from Marc Roca winning the ball back in the opposition half, and it was he who applied pressure to the unfortunate full-back. Roca has been far more impressive when playing in a more advanced position this season, as he did in the second half on Sunday.
The visitors looked a little shaken and it was feasible that cracks could begin to appear. This theory was not put to the test, however, as the home side immediately shot themselves in the foot. Calero was the guilty party, but the truth is that as soon as Real Sociedad began to press higher up the pitch again, it was an accident waiting to happen. Isak, who had replaced Willian José, was incredibly direct and accurate with his left-footed finish into the bottom corner. 1-3. For our money, Diego López didn’t cover himself in glory with his positioning for this one, but he was probably caught on the hop.
From the moment the net bulged, everyone knew it was over. Fans headed for the exits as the protagonists played out an uneventful last 15 minutes. Real Sociedad had shown touches of class and were economical with their approach and deadly in front of goal. Espanyol, on the other hand, had been inconsistent, disorganised, and seemed to have to work incredibly hard to create the slightest opening. Le falta chispa: there’s no spark.
There are already rumours that David Gallego has two games, in Vigo against Celta on Thursday and against Valladolid at RCDE stadium on Sunday, to save his job. It is hard to argue after yet another impotent performance.
We’ll be back on Thursday with a preview of the Celta game, and hopefully a bit more positivity. Cheers for now.