Tensions rapidly spilled over at the Mestalla. Hector Moreno’s perceived hand ball in the box and resulting sending-off for a second yellow card against Valencia in the final several minutes of normal time allowed Roberto Soldado to slot home the resulting penalty and wrap up all three points for his side. It was all too much for Espanyol, as their efforts throughout a hard-fought outing were about to leave them empty handed and rock bottom of La Liga in November.
Wakaso, Joan Verdu and Sergio Tejera were all shown yellow cards as a flurry of blue and white shirts surrounded referee Carlos del Cerro Grande, before Sergio Garcia was shown a straight red for taking his protests a little further. A fortunate opener for Valencia saw Raul Rodriguez’s deflected clearance fall into the path of Jonathan Viera. Only a quarter of an hour later, on loan Inter striker Samuele Longo bundled it in at the other end after a well worked move, and it looked as if the Catalan outfit was in luck.
It was never to be for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, however, as the players were paying the price for the club’s institutional issues and a lack of harmony in the dressing room. A 3-0 battering at the hands of fellow strugglers Osasuna a week prior to their trip to the Mestalla left little hope for survival at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat. Their collective anxiety was also resulting in disciplinary problems on the pitch, as in the 13 games played in La Liga they have already picked up seven red cards.
This weekend’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Getafe sealed Pochettino’s faith, and after a board meeting by Monday morning it was an open secret that the former centre-back had been sacked. The official announcement arrived soon after, also confirming that Ramon Planes ceased to function as a sporting director. The supporters and the media readily looked for an easy answer, but in truth it is simply not that simple.
Espanyol’s financial issues aside, their real problems on the pitch stem from an over reliance on a poor mixture of experienced players running out of contract and promising young talent. The leadership from the likes of former Spanish international Joan Capdevila has not been enough. The draining of their best talent every transfer window has not helped the transition, with loaning the likes of Philippe Coutinho in last season proving to only be effective over a short period of time.
Gambling on young players such as Coutinho to mix in and prove the difference alongside mature players, with Samuele Longo also arriving from Inter this term, will not work every time, which is well documented. The furthest the club have gone towards stability is attempting to allow Longo to stay in Spain for an additional year following his June 2013 return date, a notion that the Italian outfit quashed.
Former Arsenal youngster Rui Fonte being yet another example, as all the club did was extend his loan from Sporting Lisbon for two successive seasons before finally purchasing him 2011. Other youngsters such as Wakaso, who arrived from relegated Villarreal last summer, will soon comprehend that Espanyol may not be the ideal environment to develop.
Javier Aguirre is the favorite to take the hot seat, and must try and establish a squad with promising players that know they will be at the club for more than a single season. In the short term surviving in La Liga will be the only objective, and it starts with a crucial trip to fellow relegation candidates Granada on Sunday.