We’ve still over a week to wait until Espanyol make their debut under Pablo Machín, but it is clear that the players will need all their time to adapt to the new style. Unfortunately, the defining characteristics of Gallego’s side were slow, ponderous football, with very little end product for all their possession. Machín’s sides, on the other hand, are known for their direct buildup play and willingness to get early balls into the box. In this sense, parallels could be drawn with Rubí’s Espanyol, so hopefully it won’t be too difficult to inject the players with the necessary urgency.
The most obvious change will be in terms of formation. Since taking over at Girona, Machín has always played with a back three and two attacking wing-backs. These wing backs will form a line of four with two central midfielders when bringing the ball out from the back, and then they will look to bomb on to join the three more advanced players. A traditional number nine is a must, with Machín’s preference being to line up with two interior forwards just behind. Players like Víctor Sánchez have been talking this week about working on this specific system in training, so we can make a fairly good guess at the side that may face Villarreal in nine days time.
Let’s have a look at the Girona first-choice XI from the 17/18 season to paint a picture.
That year, Stuani (22) and Portu (11) scored 33 of the side’s 50 goals. Calleri and Ferreyra are both strikers in a similar mould to Stuani: strong in the air and quick to get a shot away, although neither of them have been as prolific as the Uruguayan throughout their careers. Portu, now at Real Sociedad, was a breakthrough player for Girona who often made the difference with his pace and ability to link with the midfield. Vargas is the obvious candidate to play a similar role at RCDE stadium. This system is obviously very demanding for the wing-backs, who are crucial in both the attacking and defensive phase.
Filtering the Espanyol squad through this shape, we get something like:
The arrival of Machín could be really good news for players like Bernardo and Melendo, who appeared to be frozen out under Gallego. Bernardo was a regular at the centre of the defensive line in Girona, and we wouldn’t bet against him reprising that role in Barcelona now. Especially when we consider the importance of set pieces for Machín’s sides in the past. Espanyol have looked completely toothless from corners so far this year, and the presence of the towering Colombian should help in this regard.
On paper, Corchia and Pedrosa are ideally suited to getting up and down the line. The jury may still be out on their delivery into the box, but perhaps they are more suited to getting to the byline and cutting it back for Vargas or Melendo.
The big question mark is over who will partner Marc Roca in the centre of the field. We’ve included Darder, but on current form Víctor Sánchez may well retain his place, and he certainly offers more in terms of getting back to form a solid defensive block.
The elephant in the room is the demanding nature of Espanyol’s schedule, which necessitates rotation and means that a “first-choice XI” only really exists on paper. The Villarreal match will be the first of another seven games in the space of 22 days, so strength in depth and finding effective combinations should be the number one concern.
There are plenty of options there, and not too many weak points. If Machín is to turn Espanyol’s season around, though, someone is going to have to step up and become the goalscorer that they haven’t been for the blanc-i-blau so far. Calleri? Ferreyra? Vargas? Time will tell.