Despite starting the week bottom of the league, Espanyol were hungry and optimistic to return to action in Spanish football and prove the doubters wrong.
Despite their lowly position, Espanyol are confident of their ability to fight their way out of the relegation zone. They got back to work following the coronavirus enforced break with purpose and picked up a well-deserved 2-0 win against Deportivo Alavés. Visiting goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco gave the Catalan club a huge advantage early on with his complete miscalculation leading to him catching a ball way out of his box, and a red card duly followed.
Abelardo Fernandez’s side showed the necessary urgency and desire to win from the first minute, a far cry from the first three quarters of the season. Defender Bernardo Espinosa called it an “important day” for the club in post-match comments, before praising his side’s “ambition” to winning in the “special circumstances.”
Added to the result was the sheer dominance they displayed, albeit with the caveat of having played around 70 minutes of the game with an extra man. Regardless, Espanyol were strong and organised in defence, something that’s been severely lacking for most of the season, and showed more than enough creativity going forward to break through their visitors whose focus was entirely on fortifying their defenses.
Commendable too was their ability to hit the ground running after such a strange period of the season, with Spain still in partial lockdown and their squad hit particularly hard by the pandemic. A round of testing all the way back in March showed that six members of their staff were positive for Covid-19, including four players. Attacker Wu Lei, one of the players who suffered from the coronavirus, sealed the three points for Espanyol with his goal.
The Perequitos are well placed to perform a dramatic escape from the drop zone, especially after a January spending spree the likes of which the club had never seen before. Huge investments were made to the playing staff to give the newly appointed Abelardo – their third permanent manager of the season – the essential funds to keep their heads above the water.
Espanyol broke their record signing last summer with purchase of Matías Vargas, and while showing his talent on occasion, he has yet to have the impact that was hoped of him. In January, that record transfer fee was blown out of the water with the singing of Raúl de Tomás, while similar amounts were paid for Adrián Embarba, and Leandro Cabrera. Luckily for the blue-and-whites, these players have had an impressive immediate impact, helping the team pick up much-needed points.
De Tomás, above the rest, has been spectacular since returning to La Liga after spending the first half of the season with Benfica. Starting with his debut, the striker netted in his first five games with the Perequitos, beginning in the Copa del Rey and the remaining four coming in league matches. Among those, two have been match winners, and one in a 1-1 draw with Athletic Club Bilbao, making his goals directly responsible for five of his team’s 23 points this season (counting winners as only two points).
The good news for the Catalans kept coming over the whole weekend, as every result across the league that had any significance for their chances of survival went their way. The other two sides in the relegation zone, Leganés and Mallorca, both lost, as did Celta Vigo, Eibar, and of course Alavés immediately above the bottom three positions.
The results placed Espanyol just three points away from salvation, with a fixture list that leaves much in their own hands. Their momentum was maintained with a highly credible scoreless draw at top four hopefuls Getafe on Tuesday, despite being reduced to ten men early in the game. Despite late pressure from the hosts, Espanyol were good value for the point and demonstrated once again that they are going to be a tough nut to crack for the remainder of the season.
It’s debatable how much of an advantage playing at home offers in this post-coronavirus world given the absence of fans and atmosphere, but it’s still probable that the familiarity of playing in one’s own stadium offers some home comforts.
Espanyol’s last three home matches sees them take on Leganés, Eibar, and then Celta Vigo on the last day of the season. Their away schedule presents a different story, with trips to Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, and Real Sociedad all yet to come.
However, with a string of very winnable six-pointers coming up, Espanyol could be forgiven for forgoing away games and concentrating on their home contests until the end of the season as survival is the only thing on their mind.
They remain bottom of the table for now, with 28 games played, and have gone through a chaotic season with problems continuously exacerbating. But despite it all, with a manager finally in charge that is getting results out of his players, the great escape could well be on for them.