El Centrocampista

FIRING BLANCS (AND BLAUS) – The pre-season woes of Espanyol

By Lee Roden

Being the ‘other’ team in Barcelona is never an easy task, but the pressure is particularly high this season for Espanyol.
A few months into their 2010-2011 campaign, some Espanyol fans were dreaming (albeit unrealistically) of a Champions League place for the club. In the end, the team narrowly missed out on a Europa League place, despite an impressive campaign under Pochettino. Naturally, supporters will expect the team to start from where they left off and continue to improve, but things aren’t exactly going to plan.

All seemed well when the blanc-i-blaus kicked off their pre-season against Peralada; an outing that is traditionally the first fixture in the summer friendly period for Espanyol. A routine 5-1 thumping, with main man Osvaldo netting two and showing some great touches looked nice on paper, but means little due to the opposition. Peralada play in the lowly Catalan first division – four divisions away from the Primera. To put that in to perspective, the result is somewhat akin to Manchester United turning over the great Yeovil Town….

Pablo Osvaldo is still at the club, but for how long?

Mightier opposition was soon knocking at the door, and Espanyol did not rise to the challenge. The periquitos only managed a measly 0-0 draw against giants of Catalan football, FC Palafrugell. I will of course assume all of our readers are familiar with the might of a European stalwart like Palafrugell, but just to be safe I should explain that Palafrugell play in the Catalan “Preferent Territorial”. This highly competitive league is the second division of Catalan football, five divisions below the Primera. To put that into perspective, it’s something like Manchester United drawing with your local pub team. Not good.

I’m being flippant (and perhaps a tad unfair to Palafrugell), but it isn’t good, and it is totally inexcusable. Whilst footballing ‘blips’ are frequent and usually nothing serious, Pochettino’s army will be worried. The main challenge for Espanyol this summer was supposed to be keeping hold of Pablo Osvaldo. The talented striker is being courted by a number of clubs, but as of yet he is still an Espanyol player. Osvaldo has reportedly chosen to remain in Barcelona, eyeing the captain’s armband this season. Crisis averted, for the moment. Except Pablo Osvaldo was playing on Wednesday, and much like the rest of his team, he was utterly useless.

Espanyol are, ultimately, a selling club. There’s no escaping it. The transfer window is still open and Osvaldo could still leave before it closes. Judging by yesterday’s result, Pochettino already has a task on his hands without losing a key player. Osvaldo may yet change his mind if pre-season results continue on the downward trajectory.

Perhaps such swift judgement is harsh. Granted, the Palafrugell game featured goal line clearances and parking the bus aplenty, but I’m a firm believer that in such a drastically one sided fixture, Espanyol should really have been making their own luck. The official Espanyol website called the match “domini sense encert”, or “domination without success”. Ultimately, dominating a game means nothing without success, and Espanyol did dominate – particularly in the midfield – with Javi Marquez running riot. This is to be expected against a team five divisions inferior however, and the lack of one single goal is a cause for alarm.

Key questions need to be asked about the motivation of the players and then resolved quickly before the season starts. If not, Pochettino may find that a relegation battle, not qualifying for the Europa League, is on the cards.

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