The memory of near-European qualification is still fresh enough to act as a pre-season target, but with a modest budget and the side lacking an important signing to beef up attack, Espanyol’s ambition will be tempered going into 2012-13.
Several loan players have left, as has the target man Kalu Uche and with a week before kick off, Coach Mauricio Pochettino was still hoping to bring in extra players for attack. Yet the Argentine admitted that patience will be required, with Espanyol are not in a position to splash out on reinforcements.
Last season saw them finish the campaign with a dip in form, leaving the Pericos just five points clear of the relegation zone, despite a strong first half of the campaign.
To improve on the 14th place finish of 2011-12, Pochettino has brought in World Cup and European Championship-winning left back Joan Capdevila from Benfica, as well as defender Diego Colotto from Deportivo de La Coruna.
Midfielder Sergio Tejera returns to the club where he spent the early years of his career, yet is still to fulfil the enormous potential he displayed in his early teens. The young Ghanaian Wakaso joined from Villarreal, stating he wanted to help the club qualify for European competition. Pochettino sees him as a versatile player who could fill in at several positions if needed.
Whether Espanyol can challenge for European qualification will largely depend on the extent to which Pochettino is able to strengthen his attack and instil consistency in the side that continues right into the business end of the season.
The difference maker – Joan Verdu
The playmaker will once again be charged not just with providing the spark in attack, but in the absence of options and with Sergio Garcias injury for the season start, chipping in with important goals too.
Best signing – Joan Capdevila
He may be into the final stretch of his career, and did not have the happiest spell at Benfica, but the left-back brings a wealth of experience to the defence and quality deliveries from the wing.
His time? Sergio Tejera
The young midfielder is not just returning to the club he started out at, before Chelsea won the race for his signature, but also to deliver on the potential that saw him capped at Spain Under-15 and Under-17 level.
Coach – Mauro Pochettino
Mauro Pochettino was one of the original Bielsa Boys at Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina, but he sticks to a more conventional 4-2-3-1. Into his fourth season coaching the club, adding to his eight as a player, the Argentine is an adopted Perico, proving so by rejecting an offer to take control at Sampdoria over the summer.
The big question…
Can they go the distance? Last year, Espanyol mustered just one win in their final 10 matches, exactly as happened the season before. Whether it is fitness or morale, Pochettino must find the recipe to avoid the end of season slump again.
Probable line-up: C. Alvarez; Javi Lopez, Forlin, Hector Moreno, CAPDEVILA; Victor Sanchez, C. Gomez; Albin, Verdu. WAKASO; Alvaro
IN: Tejera (m, Mallorca), Capdevila (d, Benfica), Colotto (d, Deportivo La Coruna), Wakaso (m, Villarreal)
OUT: Romaric (m, Zaragoza), Didac Vila (d, Valencia), Weiss (m, Manchester city), Coutinho (a, Inter), Pandiani (a, free), Javi Marquez (m, Mallorca), Ben Sahar (a, Hertha Berlin), Jordi Amat (d, Rayo Vallecano), Kalu Uche (a, Kasimpass), Dani Nieto (m, Alcorcon)