RCD Espanyol, to give the "parakeets" their correct team name, visit El Madrigal for the first time since April 2012. On that occasion the teams drew 0-0; since Lotina was our coach we can safely assume there are no lessons to be learned from that experience that mean anything today!
Espanyol had a different coach then, too--Pochettino lost his job last year after a string of bad results, and Javier Aguirre came in and turned things around. in the end they finished 13th, 8 points above relegation, despite losing their last five matches and not scoring in any of them.
Word from the team's president as the season ended were that the club would have to tighten its belt and reduce payroll, and that's what they did. A number of players left, including Joan Verdu (who refused a new contract and left on a free transfer to Betis), Juan Forlin, Jordi Amat, Juan Albin,and ex-amarillo Wakaso Mubarak. All told, Espanyol netted something like €9million from all this, and they invested exactly €660,000 of it in new players--Alex, a central midfielder from Real Madrid Castilla, and David Lopez, a defensive midfielder from Huesca, being the purchases. They also picked up a few Segunda players on free transfers, and appear to have done some business with Sr. Mendes and the Doyen Group, as loanees from Benfica and Udinese also appear on their books.
And in spite of all this, Espanyol have gotten off to a great start. They opened up in Vigo, and like us, they shared the spoils there, though they came from a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2. They defeated Valencia 3-1 in their home opener, drew 0-0 at Betis, won 1-0 at Granada, and on Monday defeated Athletic Club 3-2. It's hard to know exactly how much to make of only five matches, but, like us, they do seem to score late--seven of their nine goals have come in the second half.
As befits this, their "danger man" (at least for me) has been their supersub, Thievy Bifouma. You may remember he was loaned to Las Palmas last year by Espanyol, and he ran us ragged. He hasn't started a game yet, but has two goals, one against Celta, one against Valencia. We need to watch out for him.
Espanyol's defensive personnel appears to be okay, not great; their midfielders fall into that category as well. With Thievy, Benfica loanee Pizzi and ex-Racing man Stuani, they have some guys who can find the net.
Espanyol will be physical, very dangerous in the air, and dangerous off set pieces. They are not going to have tons of shots on goal, but they've been successful with a larger-than-usual percentage of them. Having said that, they are not very mobile (especially if Jóan Capdevila has to come in at left back) so speed should open up some great chances for us.
Villarreal: Also undefeated, of course, in five games, but coming off two draws, both games we feel we should have won, certainly the latter. I'm expecting us to make some changes for this game, partly because I did see some signs of fatigue in the last match, but also for tactical reasons. I really expect Jeremy Perbet to get a start and also Tomas Pina. I think their style of play is going to be more suited to this game.
My choice would be to rest Jony, with a front six of Perbet, Gio, Cani, Bruno, Pina and Hernan Pérez; if that group isn't able to play vertically enough or speedily enough to create chances, then bring on Jony and/or Aquino in the second half. Perbet is a good passer of the ball as well as finisher, and he is more willing to engage in the rough-and-tumble stuff than is Jony. I'm going for Hernan partly to rest Aquino, but also because the Paraguayan has played pretty well against Espanyol in the past.
Much has been made of the fact that Espanyol hasn't scored against us in a while--but to be honest, we haven't scored much either. Of the last six matches, four were 0-0 draws, but in the 2010-11 season we did the double against them, with a 4-0 win at El Madrigal and a 1-0 win at their place (that match featured the Rossi "don't know much about geometry" goal from an acute angle).
One thing that has happened a lot is Espanyol players have been sent off--it's happened four times in those last six matches. Which might be a good omen. Another good omen (one hopes) might be the referee, Eduardo Prieto, Newly promoted from the Segunda, he "beeped" in our home wins against Girona (4-1) and Sabadell (3-0) last year, though he was also the ref in our away loss to Girona. But hey, he's at El Madrigal this time.
Prediction: Maybe it's wishful thinking (this match being played on my birthday and all) but I just don't think Espanyol is that good, and I think we can be. I think we'll win this.