Matchday four of the Europa League group stages has come around already, and Espanyol could get things wrapped up nice and early and qualify for the knockout stages with a win against Ludogorets at RCDE stadium this evening. Easier said than done, perhaps, given that the blanc-i-blau have lost all six of their home games in La Liga, and could only draw 1-1 with Ferencváros in the European competition. The fans, often criticised for being too critical, would appreciate the chance to enjoy a game of football for once, not really having had anything to shout about since the visit of Zorya Luhansk back in August. Oh, heady days… on that balmy Thursday evening Espanyol came back to score three real goals, all from open play, and even had the audacity to miss a penalty. Nobody had yet glimpsed the true horrors of The Gallego Zone, and pericos could dream of welcoming clubs like Arsenal, Man United or Porto to Barcelona. Well, here come Ludogorets.
Espanyol team news
Espanyol caused something of an upset to record a relatively comfortable 0-1 win Razgrad a fortnight ago. Pablo Machín showed that he is willing to rotate heavily, at least at this early stage of the competition, and keep his powder dry for grinding out points in La Liga. With a visit to Atlético Madrid’s Metropolitano on Sunday looming large, we would expect a similar lineup this evening.
Calleri and Piatti are all still out through injury, while Calero, Iturraspe Ferreyra are all doubts due to a lack of match fitness. Javi López is suspended after his advisable lunge in Bulgaria, meaning that someone will have to double up on league and cup duties. That someone could well be Bernardo, the foundation stone of Machín’s defence. Lluís López should get a start, with the third defensive spot up for grabs between Naldo, Calero and Dídac. The latter could take up one of the full-back berths opposite Corchia, with Pipa being an alternative. Iturraspe and Pol Lozano would make for a solid midfield base, although Granero will probably get the nod ahead of one of the pair. Campuzano will be keen to add to his two goals in the group stages so far, with Vargas and Melendo probably in pole position to start as inside forwards. However, the Argentine has looked a bit out of sorts recently and we wouldn’t be surprised if he was given an extended rest with a view to this weekend’s match. Wu Lei is a man in need of a boost.
Ludogorets team news
The Bulgarian champions are getting through head coaches even more quickly than Espanyol, with Aleksi Zhelyakov the third man to sit in the hotseat this season. This despite topping the Bulgarian league with 39 points from 15 games, and sitting second in Europa League group H with two wins from three. To be fair, Stoycho Stoev got the boot after failing to lead the side through the Champions League qualifiers, while his replacement, Stanislav Genchev, was only appointed on an interim basis as he didn’t possess a full UEFA Pro Licence.
This will be Zhelyakov’s first match in charge, and he will welcome back Polish international midfielder Jacek Goralski, and top score Claudiu Keseru, both absent for the reverse fixture a fortnight ago. The Romanian has eight goals in nine league matches this season, on top of three in two starts in the Europa League. He will be waiting to pounce on any trademark slapstick defending from Bernardo and co..
They’re getting pumped. 1-0. ¡Vamos Espanyol!