“The situation is somewhat alarming,” admitted Joan Capdevila. Three games of the new season played, three defeats registered. Relinquishing the lead twice already this season, Espanyol have not won a League match since April. They have not managed a win, away from home, for 265 days since they defeated Sporting Gijon in December, a team that went on to be relegated. Alarming is exactly what this situation is.
Having promised the fans a good game against Levante, it seemed Espanyol might have delivered when they scored two in the first half to set them on the path to victory. Control of the midfield and their ability to possess the ball made life difficult for Levante, who exacerbated the problem by playing Vicente Iborra and Pape Diop alongside one another to restrict the creativity of their own side.
With the introduction of Michel, the home side remedied that issue and almost immediately Espanyol surrendered their lead and the willingness to compete. In 45 minutes, Levante perfectly exposed their opponents’ weaknesses. Without the ball, Mauricio Pochettino’s men suffer, as they also do when faced with heavy pressing. Lack of leadership on the pitch saw the team collapse and lose all their intensity to reveal a passive defence, a midfield that fails to fight for the ball and a scared group of players who did not gamble despite having an extra man on the pitch after the home side lost Iborra to a red card.
In his post-match comments, Pochettino acknowledged that his side lacked the intensity of the first half and that the number of yellow cards accrued so early on in the game forced his men to back off. Tough by nature, their Coach insists on an aggressive game where they push high up the pitch and close down opponents.
Considering the fact they collected more yellow cards than any other side last season, it’s safe to say Espanyol know how to impose themselves. Topping the yellow card chart again this term, one would assume they are staying faithful to their nature. However, on this occasion, they are not chasing opponents down effectively nor are they exhibiting their love of a competition. They are simply being reckless and it’s affecting their game.
Forced to continuously create a competitive team despite limited funding and the arrival and departures of so many names during recent transfer markets, Pochettino has done a tremendous job as Coach. Having arrived at the club with the sole objective of avoiding relegation, his immediate concern was to fortify the back-line. Exploiting the pace within his team and allowing them to attack when they had the opportunity, the squad began to believe in their ability once again. Once salvation was secured, the Coach began to introduce a more fluid style of football that revolved around ball possession and creativity so that Los Periquitos were not merely a reactive club but one that took the game to their opponents.
Reliant on youth because of tradition as well as out of necessity due to limited funding, Espanyol gives chances to youngsters at a time when most of their rivals are revelling in the security of experience. As Pochettino began to improve his team’s style of play, he began to also concern himself with youth development to ensure they would provide him with players in the future. He demanded certain tactics and he dedicated much of his time to watching the youngsters mature into the type of players he could and would include in the first team. Players like Javi Marquez, who was recently sold, exemplified the strength of their youth system.
However, all is not well with Espanyol and in addition to their economical problems that saw them lose some of greatest assets this summer and a poor transfer campaign that left them wanting in attack, the club now have a youth system in disarray.
Ramon Planes, their sporting director, has been accused of neglecting his broad list of duties to focus only on the first team whilst both Alex Garcia, youth system coordinator, and Antonio Morales have departed the club. The latter was both a director and head of youth who was abruptly notified of immediate and radical changes that were to be made to the club’s youth set-up. Realising he would be robbed of much of his control on footballing affairs to contend with only the economical side of things, Morales felt he had no option but to leave.
With a youth set-up bleeding directors and a team unable to muster enough motivation and character to hold on to win, Pochettino may have to expect negative results for a while yet. Can he pull off another miracle?