Another week of La Liga action, another pointless affair for Espanyol. LDLWLDLLL does not make happy reading, and neither does the lack of activity in the “goals for” column, stuck at four for four weeks now. But as we said in our preview, the performance was more important than the result here, so what can we take from Sunday’s match?
Espanyol 0-1 Villarreal
A promising opening 15 minutes’ work against Villarreal was undermined when Rubén Peña got in behind on the right and his deflected cross fell to Ekambi via Diego López’s thigh. It was an unlucky goal to concede but the fact that it came with the opponent’s first real foray forward was symptomatic of the season so far. Heads went down in the stands but, to be fair, the players reacted positively. Espanyol regained the upper hand and once again dominated the territorial battle, but were limited in terms of real chances created. Calleri drilled a header against the bar from a corner and Víctor Gómez fired a shot across goal as they fought to get back on level terms. The youngster was making his debut at right wing-back and was easily Espanyol’s most menacing presence throughout, especially when linking up with Matías Vargas.
Machín must have changed the soundtrack to the half-time teamtalk, as the customary onslaught failed to materialise in the early stages of the second period. Referee Del Cerro Grande did award the home side a generous indirect freekick for a pass back which had clearly come off Calleri last, but Iborra managed to deflect Vargas’ fierce effort over the bar.
As predicted, the midfield was hotly contested throughout. Darder had been picked to match up Villarreal’s midfield three, but was largely ineffectual in an attacking sense and was eventually replaced by Granero. While neither side could be said to have gained any great level of control in the central area, Marc Roca and Víctor Sánchez did well to negate the attacking influence of Santi Cazorla, replaced by Javi Ontiveros, as well as battle against Iborra and the impressive Anguissa.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Espanyol’s weak point was the area between the advanced full-backs and the trio of central defenders. David López did not look positionally comfortable on the left of the three, and was clearly wary of his lack of pace against Gerard Moreno. The former perico left him for dead on 54 minutes, with Ekambi wasting a golden opportunity to put the game to bed when it was squared for him. Naldo, for his part, fails to convince with the ball at his feet. The Brazilian clearly wasn’t paying attention when they were teaching joga bonito and often prefers to lump it forward rather than play it out from the back. To be perfectly honest, we fully support this approach as he is an accident waiting to happen otherwise. Bernardo made a good impression in only his second start of the season, and looked dangerous from set pieces where he often made a run at the back post. The left-footed Calero would seem to be a natural fit in this formation, but he may need to work hard to convince the new manager after a couple of kamikaze performances in recent weeks.
Espanyol upped the intensity and had a handful of headed efforts, with all the danger coming down the right wing. Calleri once more worked incredibly hard, getting the better of Raúl Albiol overall, but the ball just won’t go in for him at the moment. Neither is it easy to put away floated crosses to towards the penalty spot: improved deliveries would certainly help him get off the mark.
In the end, Machín was forced to withdraw Matías Vargas and Víctor Gómez with slight muscle complaints, throwing on Ferreyra and Wu Lei in search of the equaliser. And it looked as if it may come when the referee pointed to the spot after Wu Lei claimed handball, but as the official headed for the pitch-side screen to review the footage on the advice of the VAR system, it was clear that the decision would be reversed. Ferreyra crossed for Granero as Villarreal struggled to regroup, but Steve the Pirate’s solid connection was blocked by Asenjo once again. The visitors did eventually regain their composure, with Moreno, Ontiveros and Chukwueze all finding gaps as hope began to fade for an increasingly directionless Espanyol. A fighting display which was ultimately futile.
Espanyol have now lost their first five home league games for the first time since 92/93. The following year they competed in the second division.
- Pablo Machín. The new coach was quick to implement his ideas and honest in his appraisal. Only Barcelona have scored more goals than Villarreal, so limiting them to such an extent was no mean feat for a side low on confidence.
- Víctor Gómez. A sparkling debut could only have been improved by a better result. Unlucky not to score in the first half with a swerving effort which Asenjo got fingertips to.
- Víctor Sánchez. The captain may divide opinion but he was everywhere in the first half and didn’t deserve to be on the losing side. Shouldn’t take set pieces though.
- Calleri. He receives pelters from some sections of the support for not being quick enough, but he can only play to his strengths. He is dominant in the air, and if everyone matched his level of commitment (looking at you Darder), Espanyol might not be in the same predicament.
- Darder. Useless.
On the horizon
Espanyol now travel to Bulgaria for Thursday’s Europa League tie against Ludogorets. Machín will be without Calleri, who has been ruled out for two-three weeks, and Piatti, who suffered a recurrence of a previous injury in training. The Argentine is expected to be out for six weeks.
It will be interesting to see how much rotation there will be compared to the Villarreal match, and we would like to see a strike partnership of Ferreyra and Wu Lei given a chance.
Tomorrow we’ll be back with a look at the precedents for La Liga sides who have a troubled relationship with scoring goals. Till then.