Sitting fifth in La Liga after a five-game unbeaten start to the 2013-14 campaign, most Espanyol fans held high hopes their team could mount a serious challenge for a top six spot this term. The last game Los Periquitos played in European competition was the 2007 UEFA Cup Final in Glasgow against Sevilla, a game that ended in an agonising penalty shoot-out defeat, and followers of Barcelona’s second club might be forgiven for thinking a return is long overdue.
However, since their impressive start, Javier Aguirre’s men have gone on a run that has seen just four points taken from a possible 24 – three of them off high-flying Atletico Madrid – and it culminated in last weekend’s disappointing 3-1 home loss to Sevilla, a team that had not won away from home for almost 14 months. It is a sequence of results that has seen Espanyol slide to just three points above the relegation zone and consequently raised questions about Aguirre’s own future in the Catalan capital.
Having replaced Mauricio Pochettino in November last year, with Espanyol languishing at the foot of the table on nine points from 13 games, the experienced Mexican steered them to a respectable 13th position. Nonetheless, regardless of his record since taking over standing at a half-decent 13 wins, 14 defeats and 11 draws, the Cornella-El Prat faithful are becoming increasingly concerned that his influence is starting to diminish. In fact, during the Sevilla defeat Aguirre was roundly jeered by a vociferous section of fans, particularly after choosing to bring on winger Pizzi for the popular Simao 20 minutes from time, with lots of spectators opting to leave well before the final whistle in protest at what they believe is his sometimes baffling team selections.
A lack of goals is also causing concern as only Granada and the bottom three of Rayo Vallecano, Osasuna and Real Betis have managed fewer. Indeed, the last Espanyol player to hit the back of the net before Sergio Garcia’s strike against Sevilla was Frenchman Thievy Bifouma in the 2-1 away reverse to Elche in early October, the decider in the 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid subsequently credited to a Thibaut Courtois own goal.
Many consider the current problems relate back to the first defeat of the season, a 2-1 setback against Villarreal at El Madrigal on September 26, when the Coach made eight changes to what was more or less his strongest starting XI, one that had taken 11 points from 15. From there, the regular chopping and changing has seen players who were previously first choices relegated to the substitutes’ bench and, in some cases, even the stands, whilst reported rumours of dressing room unrest have also begun to surface. Even so, despite the simmering discontent, Aguirre accepts he must shoulder his fair share of the blame, although he believes the situation is far from irreversible.
“We are on a tightrope and much closer to the bottom, so we need to pull together and get ourselves out of this as soon as possible. But that’s football and the statistics don’t lie.
“If I can’t accept the criticism then I shouldn’t be in this business. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and we must keep fighting. We have to close ranks and think about staying up,” he admitted.
In view of that, Aguirre will welcome the international break as it hands him the opportunity to try and restore some stability before the next game against struggling Rayo at the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas. Additionally, the run-up to the Christmas break sees Espanyol face Real Sociedad, Almeria and Real Valladolid – a not unkind set of fixtures and one that may shape the rest of what was a once promising season, should a reasonable amount of points not be secured.