What a time to be alive. Espanyol got their fifth goal and second win of the current La Liga season with a mildly convincing performance against Levante on Sunday, which now makes it four wins away from home in all competitions this season compared to a big fat zero at RCDE stadium. 19th position is ours and the promised land of 17th is a mere point away.
A good part of this heady optimism is the result of the famed new-manager bounce, with Espanyol players looking markedly more confident in what they are doing since Machín filled the Gallego-shaped hole on the bench. However, there is a good chance that a heavy dollop of reality could be coming our way over the next fortnight. A visit to the Cathedral in Bilbao and Atleti’s Metropolitano with the minor headache of hosting Valencia in between times represents the toughest run of games the pericos have faced so far, and if next Thursday’s Europa League tie against Ludogorets is factored in then it is clear that the squad will be pushed to its limits.
Levante 0-1 Espanyol
This result was nailed on. Pablo Machín stuck with the side that had made such a good impression against Villarreal, with Ferreyra coming in for the injured Calleri in the only change. Espanyol then proceeded to grind out a win by the narrowest of margins in a stadium where it is notoriously difficult to do so. Bernardo was the hero, although it was unclear which part of his body he used to deflect the ball into the top corner in the 38th minute. According to the man himself it was with his heart, and we’re prepared to take his word for it. Espanyol have gone from a team that might as well not have bothered taking set pieces to one that looks as if it could score at every opportunity. Machín must of course take some credit for this, although establishing Vargas and Granero as the dead ball specialists and introducing the considerable aerial threat of Bernardo are less tactical masterstrokes and more corrections of inexplicable Gallego gaffes.
Darder had already drawn a save from Aitor Fernández and then hit the bar from corners by the time the goal arrived. Ferreyra celebrated with particular relief, as he had failed to find the back of the net when VArgas played him clean through on goal in the move that led to the corner. He seems to be suffering from the same loss of confidence as fellow strikers Wu Lei and Calleri, which is perhaps why Machín was so forthcoming when speaking to Cadena SER on Sunday night.
The sale of Borja Iglesias (in the summer) was right at the end of the transfer window and there wasn’t enough time for find a suitable replacement… I sincerely think there is enough time to work now and the winter window is going to be key.Pablo Machín speaking on El Larguero on Sunday night
At first glance, not exactly the confidence boost that our misfiring hitmen are sorely in need of, but we trust Machín’s man management skills much more than our own. Still, we wouldn’t bet against Crithian Stuani coming in on loan in January.
Espanyol deserved their win on Sunday, and Levante barely created a chance of note. Of course, Víctor Sánchez gave them a sporting chance with a trademark bewildering loss of possession, but fortunately Roger Martí seemed to have caught the confidence crisis bug and rolled a tame effort straight at Diego López.
Athletic Bilbao vs Espanyol (Wednesday, 20:00)
Match day 11 brings a trip to San Mamés, where Athletic have only lost once in the past year. Encouragingly, this defeat came against Valencia at the end of September, and seems to have knocked the Lions’ confidence, having followed it up with away defeats to Celta and Atlético, and a disappointing draw at home to Valladolid.
Athletic are strong across the back, having conceded just seven goals in 10 games. Ander Capa may be the weak link, although he has made strides this season. With Beñat and Mikel San José out through injury, the Basque side don’t possess a midfielder of the quality of a Marc Roca. Dani García and Unai López are combative midfielders who work well together: think Víctor Sánchez x2 but without being a legend. Espanyol will need to be at their best but if Darder can get on the ball then this could be the game where he flicks the switch. The bulk of the attacking responsibility falls upon the shoulders of Raúl García, Iker Muniain and Iñaki Williams. Power, creativity and pace, in that order. Gaizka Gartitano’s side have struggled for goals (relatively speaking), with eight to their name. Raúl García leads the scoring charts with four.
Calero, Iturraspe and Calleri are still out, while Melendo is suffering from gastroenteritis and would understandably prefer to stay near the loo. Corchia and Lozano have been left out, with Lluís López coming back into the fold.
If we are to take Machín at his word then he will take each game as it comes and so should presumably retain the bulk of the side that started against Levante. The Ludogorets match is probably earmarked for rotation so we would hazard a guess at a starting XI of: Diego; Naldo, Bernardo, David; Víctor Gómez, Pedrosa; Víctor Sánchez, Marc Roca; Vargas, Darder; Ferreyra.
Athletic will look to take the game by the scruff of the neck and the onus will be on Espanyol to remain solid. Barring any individual errors, they should be up to the task and we can foresee a hard-fought 0-0 draw and a warm welcome at RCDE stadium on Saturday. ¡Vamos Espanyol!