The season begins – take three

Photo: nordicstadiums.com

The sand is slowly trickling away, but Espanyol have decided to give the trick that abjectly failed to work last time another go by showing Pablo Machín the door, plumping the cushions and giving the place a quick freshen up for the arrival of former Barça and Spain centre-back Abelardo. Time is of the essence.

Abelardo, earlier.

One win and two draws in ten La Liga matches mean then there isn’t much to say about Machín’s period at the club, other than that it was largely disappointing. He can at least be credited with shunting Bernardo and Víctor Gómez into centre-stage, neither having played a single minute under David Gallego. Whether they will continue to enjoy such prominence with another expected change in formation remains to be seen.

Abelardo’s past endeavours in the city of Barcelona will not count against him – plenty of others such as Iván de la Peña, Canito, or even current FC Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde have had considerable success at both clubs – and his impressive pedigree, having competed in two European Championships, two World Cups and won two La Liga titles, will certainly lend him some weight in the dressing room. He will need more than the respect of the players if he is to turn around Espanyol’s current trajectory of doom, though.

Espanyol’s league position so far this season: bad to worse.

Everyone has their own theory on the reasons behind this season’s slump, but it seems clear that the squad simply hasn’t been strong enough to compete in La Liga and the Europa League. A couple of additions seems indispensable in the newly opened transfer window, especially given Abelardo’s previous preference for a 4-4-2 formation. The current crop of defenders, central midfielders and strikers should all be capable of competing, but there simply aren’t any wingers. Matías Vargas is more of an inside forward, Darder and Melendo are more comfortable in behind the forward line, while Pedrosa and Víctor Gómez are natural full backs. All possible solutions but all square pegs.

Any possible additions are further down the line, however, and all eyes are on tonight’s Barcelona derby at 9pm at RCDE stadium. It’s top against bottom and it’s time to stand up and be counted. We reckon Espanyol may stick with a Machín-esque 3-5-2 for this one, with the focus on an increased level of competitiveness.

Corchia, Víctor Sánchez and Piatti (all injured) and Granero (suspended) miss out, while Calero and Ferreyra are among those who fail to make the bench. They can’t have many complaints given their recent form, and will need to get their arse in gear pronto to impress the new boss.

The big news is the return of Matías Vargas. The Argentine has been out for six weeks with a sprained ankle, and it will be interesting to see if he or Melendo are included to add a dash of technical class: a quality that was perhaps undervalued by Machín.

Matías Vargas is back in contention.

Any result will obviously be a huge plus given the difference in current form between the two sides, but it is also a match in which Espanyol have very little to lose. And looking forward, Abelardo can draw on the experience of saving Alavés from what was perhaps an even more precarious situation in the 17/18 season. Then, he took over with the Basque side on six points from 13 matches (a worse average than Espanyol’s current 10 from 18), and went on to pick up 42 points from the remaining 25 games. A trule impressive of 1.64 points/match which saw Alavés finish the campaign safely in 14th position. A similar performance this time round would certainly be enough for the pericos to maintain their top-flight status. Thanks to the abundance of relatively poor sides in La Liga this year (we’re looking at you Mallorca, Celta, Leganés, Alavés, Eibar…), 34 or 35 points could be enough to survive. It’s certainly possible.

We’re feeling good about 2020 and we hope that when March rolls in we’ll be celebrating battering Wolves in Europe and leaving the relegation zone in La Liga. It starts tonight. ¡Vamos Espanyol!

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