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Espanyol—Villarreal PREVIEW

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A young Diego López: Villarreal, 2009
Photo credit should read CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images

Villarreal make the trip up to Barcelona to take on Espanyol at their Cornella-El Prat ground. Fortunately, the protests seem to be ramping down a bit and Villarreal are busing up anyway, so it looks as though this match should take place without undue incident.

Our opponents: Espanyol so far seem a lot like Villarreal was last year for the first part of the season—they are struggling in the league, having a hard time scoring goals. And like 2018-19 Villarreal, they’re having a much better time playing in Europe than in La Liga.

They were shut out in the first three matches of the league season, then they scored four goals in three games (winning one, drawing one) and then the last two times out, they’ve failed to find the net again.

Espanyol had a profitable offseason, selling Borja Iglesias (€28m to Betis) and Hermoso (€25m to Atleti), and even sent Marcelino’s fave—and fine player when he’s not injured—Leo Baptistao to China for €6m. They signed Fernando Calero, linked so much with Villarreal, for €8m from Valladolid to replace Hermoso, but they’re relying on Jonathan Calleri, ex-Alaves, to replace Borja along with young Wu Lei, and so far it hasn’t worked.

The bad news for Villarreal is that Espanyol have dismissed coach David Gallego and hired Pablo Machín, who took Girona up to the Primera, moved to Sevilla and was promptly fired in March after European disasters. He loves to play a three-man back line, so presumably we’ll see some sort of 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 from the pericos.

Espanyol have been terrible so far this year (I saw a plot based on assumed strength of schedule to date which showed they have performed the worst of anybody) so it will be interesting to see if Machin can turn things around.

Villarreal connection: Diego López. Our regular keeper from 2008-2012 (171 league appearances), he’s now 37 years old, has played 91 league matches for the parakeets since arriving in the fall of 2016.

There are lots of players we were rumored to be interested in at one time or another (Calero, Esteban Granero, Pablo Piatti, etc.) but with the departure of Baptistao and my personal favorite Hernán Pérez, now playing in Qatar, that’s it.

Villarreal: The team news is that Alberto Moreno has returned, but other than that, it’s same as usual—no callup for Leo Suarez, Manu Morlanes or Santy Caceres. (Bruno and Ramiro Guerra are the only two on the injury list).

I expect we could rest Albiol after 180 international minutes, but probably not. So my predicted XI is Asenjo; Mario, Albiol, Pau, Moreno; Cazorla, Iborra, Anguissa, Moi, Gerard, Toko Ekambi.

Prediction: This is a match where we have an opportunity to pick up three points we don’t usually get (our record here is 4-11-4, and our last win was in January 2011....remember the “don’t care about geometry” shot of Giuseppe Rossi that gave us a 1-0 win?). But given the new coach bump and the homefield advantage, maybe a 1-1 draw is more realistic? My heart says we win this one, but I’ll go with logic for once!