Villarreal visit Cornellá-El Prat on Sunday, hoping to pick up its first away win of the season in La Liga. Last year, it was a Giuseppe Rossi goal from an acute angle that beat Espanyol goalie Kameni and gave the Submarine a hard-fought 1-0 win. What a difference a year makes: Rossi is out until at least April after knee surgery, and Cameroon international Kameni can't get a game with the Parakeets, having fallen below both Cristian Alvarez and Kiko Casilla on the depth chart!
Espanyol--a quick history
Most of you probably know that Espanyol is the "second" team in Barcelona compared to that team that plays at the Camp Nou, but while it's true that the culés' club is a year older, Espanyol can claim to be the first club in Spain to be formed by Spanish aficionados of the game, in 1900. Originally the team played in yellow shirts, but have worn blue and white stripes for 100 years now.
The sports club of which this football team is the most famous part has gone through various name changes corresponding to the vagaries of Spanish politics, and they've also moved stadiums a number of times, playing now in an award-winning modern stadium.
Espanyol has won the Copa del Rey four times, most recently in 2006, and has been a losing finalist in the old UEFA Cup twice--when they lost to Sevilla on a penalty shootout in 2006-07, they set a record for losing the competition despite never losing a game in regular time (over 15 matches).
Despite that fine record, in La Liga Espanyol have generally been a mid-table team. A fifth place finish in 2003-04 and an eighth-place finish last year have been their only top 10 finishes in recent years. They've made a nice start this year, but the periquitos started off like gangbusters last year as well before fading badly in the second half.
Coach Mauricio Pochettino lifted the Copa del Rey in his last season with the club as a player (2006) and he's now in his third year as leader of the blanquiblaus. The Argentine has been getting good press, and has even been linked with the Villarreal job if it comes open at some point.
Espanyol are not a rich club, but have a fine youth system, tend to develop talent and sell it on at a profit. This summer was no different, with Callejón, Chica, and Luis García moving on. Mexican defender Hector Moreno was signed from AZ Alkmaar, and club legend Walter Pandiani signed on for a final curtain call in the blue and white stripes--and has already scored a gamewinning goal.
Listen to Sid, Allen and Ravi discuss the game and give their predictions:
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Formations and key players:
Espanyol generally play our favorite 4-2-3-1 in front of keeper Alvarez. Moreno has been omnipresent in the centre of the defense--the other center back has recently been Raul Rodriguez, and Didac, on loan from Milan, has made left back his own, and Javi Lopez has usually been at right back. That's a decent back four, with young Jordi Amat able to help out back there as well.
Juan Forlin has usually been in defensive midfield with Javi Marquez, though he may miss this game with an ankle injury. Overall, Espanyol's defense has been pretty good: Levante scored three on them, Madrid four, but no other team more than one from open play. And at home, they've only allowed one goal in four matches if you exclude Madrid.
But they haven't scored much either. Uruguayan attacker Juan Albin is out until December with a tendon injury, and the club has made use of loanees Vladimir Weiss (from Manchester City) and Romaric (from Sevilla) in his absence, along with rumored Villarreal summer target Joan Verdu and youngsters like Baena.
Their leading scorer is Sergio Garcia, with three; youngster Alvaro has generally started as the lone striker and has one goal, and 35 year-old Pandiani has two off the bench.
For Villarreal, the key question is whether Marco Ruben will be fit or not. If he is, expect him to be the lone striker in our 4-2-3-1, with Borja, deGuzman and Hernán Pérez the three, and Bruno and someone--maybe Wakaso or Marchena--the two. My back four would be Catalá, Marchena, Musacchio and Mario, but Gonzalo could edge Marchena out (possibly into the doble pivote).
If Ruben can't go, then it's probably young Joselu again, and he should at least see more service than he did in midweek. The interesting questions are whether we might see Marcos Gullón or even Florian Lejeune off the bench, and (gasp) could Joan Oriol make two appearances in the same week?
With our problems in attack I expect Garrido to go defensive to start; the question will be what will he do if we get behind, and/or what will he do if we are drawing nil-nil late on. If we're down at halftime, he might as well pull out the stops and introduce a second striker when the half starts. Of course, if Ruben and Camunas aren't available who knows what second striker options we might have. We tend to go overly defensive and concede late goals (Granada, Sevilla, Man City, etc.) but it would be great to score a late goal ourselves for a change.
Espanyol are a decent team, they have some good quickness and quality in midfield as well as defense, and if you listen to the podcast discussion you'll see my colleagues aren't expecting a lot from this one.
Amazingly, the Parakeets will be looking to score a goal against us for the first time in nearly four years--they last tallied in a 3-0 win at home on January 5, 2008, with Raul Tamudo (2) and Valdo being the scorers. Since then, Villarreal have won four matches and drawn three. So I'm going to figure we'll continue to ride our luck and get a draw--luck hasn't been with us all season, maybe it will start now. Endavant Villarreal!!