It’s game day again, and the Espanyol squad touched down in Vigo last night. They face Celta at Balaídos tonight (20.00), but will be without Bernardo, Lluís López and Granero, all of whom have been left behind in Barcelona. Granero picked up a quad injury against Real Sociedad last weekend, and will be sorely missed as he has been the brightest spark in the last couple of outings. It will be interesting to see who starts from the centre-backs that were on the plane: Calero, Naldo and David López. Will Gallego make a show of support for Calero after his blunders against Real Sociedad on Sunday? Will David López make his first start after his return from a six-month layoff? Is Naldo the only true first-choice centre-back in this squad?
Víctor Sánchez was one of the few players to emerge with any credit from the last match, having started at right full-back. We’d expect Javi López to come back in tonight though, to rotate more than anything else. Pipa is also included in the squad but it would be a huge surprise if he were to feature. The youngster was waiting for a loan move that never materialised this summer and so will try and fight for a place at least until January. At left-back, surely it is high time that Adrià Pedrosa wasn named in the starting XI. It is vital that he recovers his best form, as the team seriously lacks dynamism without him. It is unlikely that he’ll do that by making 20 minute cameos, so Gallego needs to get him involved sooner rather than later. Dídac has performed fairly well so far, so the coach may even be tempted to play Pedrosa on the left wing and double up.
Marc Roca, Darder and Víctor Sánchez are probably favourite to start in the middle of the park, although a repeat of the largely successful Pol Lozano experiment against Ferencváros would give Roca more of the freedom he needs to show his full ability.
The real headaches for David Gallego are in the attacking positions. Firstly, because Espanyol have very rarely shown any coherent plan going forward so far this season. And secondly, because it is hard to see who among the options is going to step up and ignite this side.
Matías Vargas would be the hot favourite to do so: the Argentinian has been afforded more of a free role of late and is not afraid to take players on and make things happen. This attitude has not gone unnoticed and he is fancied to get a call-up for the full national team next month. However, he is at his most dangerous when cutting in from his familiar left-sided position, and Espanyol don’t want to reduce his potency by moving around him to cover other holes.
In a side that can sometimes look a bit short on pace, Wu Lei’s energy is vital. He will likely keep his place for this reason alone, but the truth is the Chinese star has not been nearly decisive enough in shooting or crossing positions, and he needs to improve his efficiency. Of course, he would benefit from having a bit more support higher up the pitch.
Jonathan Calleri has played 202 minutes in an Espanyol shirt. There may not have been vintage moments, but even the most rash of supporters should realise this is far too early to write him off. He has at least been combative and has shown himself able and willing to hold the ball up. It has taken Borja Iglesias five matches to open his scoring account with Betis, so Calleri may still be the panda-replacement that everyone craves.
The strange case of Òscar Melendo is the most puzzling one of the lot, with the magician struggling to produce the mesmerising skill which so bewitched defenders last season. Factors such as positioning and fitness may be at play here, but he is also undeniably lacking form. David Gallego has to decide if it is better to take him out of the limelight for a while, or to thrust him back in and let him play through the sparse patch.
Which brings us to Pablo Piatti, included in a matchday squad for the first time since early February. The recovery from a cruciate ligament rupture has been long and arduous, ut his return may be well-timed. The Argentine is an out-and-out left winger, with a deadly delivery from set pieces. These are both weapons which have been missing from the blanc-i-blau arsenal recently.
Celta Vigo team news
What of the Célticos? At first glance, they are scarcely better off than Espanyol, with their first five La Liga matches yielding just five points. Scratch the surface, however, and you see why Fran Escribà may be quietly confident. A home loss to Real Madrid on the opening day was offset by a dominant performance in a 1-0 victory over Valencia, and they have held Sevilla and Atlético to draws in their two away games. A home defeat to Granada stands out as a worrying result (we should know, after all), but theirs was at least partly justified by the fact that they spent most of the game playing with nine men, having fallen foul of the overly harsh rules regarding any challenge which threatens the Achilles tendon.
Denis Suárez has been the stand-out player since his summer switch to Galicia, and fellow fresh face Rafinha should take up his position on the opposite flank. Iago Aspas is yet to score this season, but we said the same thing about Willian José and Isak on Sunday, and look how that turned out. Have a look back at our season preview of Celta Vigo for an idea of their tactical approach.
We might be saying this a fair bit over the coming months, but we’ll take a point if you’re offering. Four points from this and the Valladolid clash would get the campaign back on track. Anything less and, well, we will be more lost than ever. ¡Vamos Espanyol!