It’s been a miserable campaign for Espanyol thus far, with Barcelona’s second biggest club rooted to the bottom of the league, with only three points won at home all season - the same number as permanent Coaches to have already taken charge since August. It’s difficult to see how they can save themselves, but with new boss Abelardo Fernandez in to build up the fundamentals of a functioning team and earning a spirited draw against rivals Barcelona in his first game, they’ve given themselves half a chance of getting out of this extremely difficult situation.
They have the worst attack in La Liga, with just 14 strikes to their name and the league’s most porous defense - 36 goals conceded. They’ve lost to Mallorca and Valladolid, two opponents they would consider their nearest challengers for survival, and they suffered a gut-wrenching defeat to Leganés, the nearest team to them in the table, three days before Christmas.
In recent months the Pericos have led in games against Betis, Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Osasuna but dropped points in all. Against Osasuna, Pablo Machín’s men led 1-0 before one of the most comically horrendous defensive performances in La Liga’s recent history saw them fall to 1-4 (before pulling a consolation goal back in the dying moments.)
Following that game, then-Coach Machín raged against his players in the post-game press conference, announcing his squad needs “real men,” and not “pipiolos” – “pipsqueeks.”
Away to Celta Vigo, also in danger of going down, the Catalans were mere seconds away from securing a vital away victory against a direct rival before a 95th minute equaliser for the Galicians snatched a share of the points. Just minutes before the leveling strike, Espanyol’s Pipa fluffed his lines with only the keeper to beat to secure the three points. His weak effort was the culmination of a move that saw four Espanyol players charging in on goal with just two Celta defenders behind, trying to track back.
These results show the severe lack of quality in the ranks and how low the spirits are in the camp. Perhaps most damningly, the disasters against Osasuna and Celta Vigo came under the guidance of different bosses, indicating the problem could be as much of the playing squad as it is how that squad is organised.
The problems for Espanyol began last summer as the club failed to address their losses in the transfer market. Their inspiring Coach of the previous campaign who led the club to European qualification in his only season, Rubi, was poached by Real Betis, and he took star striker Borja Iglesias, who had a hand in 41% of the goals the team scored last term, with him. In defense, Diego Simeone liked the look of Mario Hermoso and took him to Atletico Madrid.
Brought in were replacements of a lesser quality. The white-and-blues can often look susceptible to conceding at any point in a match. They’ve recorded just two clean sheets all season.
Comparing the average amount of shots they’ve taken and conceded per game, Espanyol actually place 11th in the table for each, indicating that while they can be difficult to get through, once opposition does break through the lines, the Catalans usually concede. On the flip side, despite sitting in the middle of the pack for shots taken too, the forwards are clearly not clinical enough to take chances and win games.
Combined with poor planning in the summer transfer market was an especially early start to the season that perhaps the club were not expecting. Due to results around the league on the last day of the 2018/19 campaign, Espanyol finished 7th and qualified for the Europa League unexpectedly, meaning their competitive games began in the middle of July for the qualifying rounds of the continental tournament.
Despite the fact that Periquitos have loved their return to Europe, as their side topped their group and will meet Premier League side Wolves in the first knockout round, most fans may perhaps exchange their European forays, although greatly enjoyed, for mid-table stability and some more league wins.
Right before the start of the new year, Abelardo Fernández was named the new Coach, replacing Pablo Machín, who was only hired in October substituting the season’s first boss, David Gallego. The amount of shots Espanyol take per match show they can at least create something, if not take their chances, and that they don’t allow their goal to be bombarded any game shows that Abelardo has a decent platform to work from. This simplifies his task of adding a system of organisation that’s been badly missing.
His debut came this weekend against the champions and league leaders; city rivals FC Barcelona. The exciting encounter had a bit of everything – Espanyol led, fell behind, and then fought back for a draw they more than deserved. Despite their counterparts’ obvious superiority in terms of quality, the Pericos nulled the threat of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and co. with a high-tempo and spirited performance that showed they are ready to fight and grit for their top- flight status.
Money will be available for Abelardo to spend, owner Chen Yansheng has confirmed, but there are many gaps in this team that need filling. They are said to be in the market for a striker, a winger, a defensive midfielder, and a central defender this January.
Among the names mentioned in relation to a possible arrival are Raúl de Tomás, the former Rayo Vallecano forward who bagged 14 goals last year and most recently spotted warming benches at Benfica, as well as former Barça youth prospect Christian Tello, out of favour at Real Betis.
The situation is extremely delicate in Cornellá de Llobregat, but with just four points between themselves and safety, and another bet on a new manager to add stability, the Catalans, who have been a mainstay in La Liga since 1994, have reason to hope they can battle their way out of the most dangerous position they’ve found themselves in for decades.