All good things come to an end. And the bad? Espanyol will be looking to alter the proverb and banish the record of zero league wins at RCDE stadium this season once and for all this afternoon against Osasuna (16.00 CET). The portents do seem to be less ominous than usual: last week’s encouraging 1-1 draw against Getafe was followed up with a 2-2 draw against Ferencváros in Budapest on Thursday, while Osasuna suffered their first home defeat of the season against Athletic Bilbao at El Sadar last time out. In that match, Jagoba Arrasate’s team worked hard to get back into the game after going behind to an early Iñaki Williams strike. Chimy Ávila eventually got a deserved equaliser with a spectacular volley as the encounter entered the final fifteen minutes, only for substitute and ex-Osasuna man Kenan Kodro to hit them with a scruffy sucker punch two minutes later. Los Rojillos have yet to suffer consecutive defeats in the current La Liga campaign, but with upcoming fixtures against Sevilla, Atlético Madrid and Real Sociedad all before Christmas, this is a great opportunity for Espanyol to kick their own survival mission into action whilst simultaneously dragging another potential relegation candidate into the mire.
It would be pushing it to say that a second-string Espanyol side shone in any way on European duty this week, but they did at least show some grit in coming back from a goal down twice, Diego López saving a penalty from Isael along the way, and Darder heading in a 96th-minute equaliser, which always tastes sweet, and gave around 400 travelling fans something to cheer about. Both this goal and the first from Melendo came from an unlikely source: Pipa was deployed at left-wing back and showed an ability and willingness to go past his man and deliver telling crosses on his weaker foot which has been seen rarely if at all from any of the blanc-i-blau wide men in recent months. It won’t be enough to earn a starting role today, with the short turnaround between games necessitating wholesale changes to the XI, but he has at least shown Machín that he is another weapon that the coach may not otherwise have counted on.
Osasuna team news
The visitors will line up in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 formation. Second choice keeper Sergio Herrera will continue due to the enforced absence of number one Rubén Martínez with a knee injury. He is untested so it might be a good idea for Espanyol to take some shots. Nacho Vidal has been passed fit, while Aridane Hernández is still out, so the back four should be Vidal-David García-Roncaglia-Estupiñán. Captain Oier is fit to form a solid midfield base alongside Darko Brasanac. Roberto Torres, Rubén García and Chimy Ávila are the three main danger men, and the only real doubt is whether Arrasate will opt for an extra midfield presence such as Fran Merida or Rober Ibáñez, or give Chimy a strike partner in the shape of Adrián López or Marc Cardona. Whatever the personnel, Osasuna will look to be aggressive in midfield and get the ball wide to Rubén García and Rober Torres at every opportunity. They won’t be shy to get the ball in the box, but equally have an eye for goal, having already netted four and three times respectively in La Liga this season. This is a team that doesn’t concede a lot of goals and will be happy to grind out a 0-0 draw if the match turns out to be as closely contested as expected.
Espanyol team news
The big news is the return of Jonathan Calleri, who came on for the final ten minutes midweek. The Argentine striker is yet to open his account for Espanyol and sections of the fanbase are already looking forward to the January transfer window in the desperate hope that real firepower will be added to the squad. However, the kind of battle that this afternoon’s match should present could be ideally suited to his combative attributes, and he will likely start up front alongside Wu Lei. Piatti also comes back into the squad, hoping his return from injury won’t be as brief this time round as last month’s false start turned out to be. He will start on the bench with Darder taking up his customary role as the more advanced of the midfield trio. Marc Roca and Víctor Sánchez may not have much opportunity to get forward, which means the onus is really on Sergi to provide the creative spark, especially now that Matías Vargas will be missing for the next month at least. Víctor Gómez and Adrià Pedrosa have established themselves on the wings, although they really need to improve their delivery into the box. Calleri’s presence should at least give them a target. The big conundrum is, of course, in central defence. Calero is having a ‘mare, and gave away a clumsy penalty on Thursday night. It was the kind of foul where he didn’t intentionally impede his opponent, but merely misjudged the ball so badly that he was in completely the wrong position and inadvertently brought his man tumbling down. He needs a spell on the bench. Dídac is probably best placed to fill his tiny boots, ahead of Lluís López. Naldo and Ferreyra are injured, while Granero appears to have been feeling under the weather this week. Nets: Diego.
If Espanyol can keep things solid for the first ten minutes (a big if), then they should be able to make their individual quality tell against this Osasuna side. Whether they can put the ball in the net is another matter entirely. We’ll take 1-0, thanks. David López header.