Victory is vital in Espanyol clash
LA LIGA SANTANDER - ROUND 25
REAL VALLADOLID vs ESPANYOL
ESTADIO JOSÉ ZORRILLA, VALLADOLID
SUNDAY 23RD FEBRUARY 2020. KICK OFF: 15:00 (UK)
Real Valladolid welcome Espanyol on Sunday afternoon, looking to extend their run of eight home matches against the Barcelona-based outfit without defeat.
Espanyol enjoyed a successful campaign in the 2018/19 season, ultimately finishing in seventh place and gaining a spot in the Europa League qualification rounds. However, they lost star striker Borja Iglesias in the summer transfer window and had struggled to replace the frontman who had hit 17 goals. They have found the going difficult in the 2019/20 season and come into this match rooted to the bottom of the table where they have resided since Round 16. This has been punctuated by a series of management changes; having taken over from caretaker manager David Gallego, Pablo Machín was appointed in October but was promptly fired just over 2 months later. He won just four out of his 15 matches in charge and was replaced by former Barcelona player Abelardo Fernández, who had enjoyed moderate success with Alavés, on 27th December.
Overall, Espanyol have registered only four league wins all season, including a single victory at home, achieving just 19 out of a possible 72 points (26.4%). In a tough campaign, they have scored 21 goals (0.88 per game) and conceded 42 (1.75 per game).
To add to their domestic frustration, they were humiliated 4-0 by Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux on Thursday evening in the Europa League.
However, there are definite signs of life since former Spanish international defender Abelardo took the helm at the RCDE Stadium. Espanyol have lost just one of their six league matches under Abelardo’s guidance, having lost six and drawn to of the previous 11 prior to his tenure commencing. In their last five league matches, they have won twice, drawn twice and lost once: gaining eight out of 15 points (53.3%) and scoring seven goals in that span. They surprised Villarreal at the Estadio de la Cerámica in Round 20, followed up by a draw at home to Athletic Club. After a narrow loss away to Granada, they lodged a crucial over fellow-strugglers Real Mallorca in a match where they earned their first home win of the season. In their last outing in La Liga Santander, they lead Sevilla 2-1 at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, before succumbing to an equaliser ten minutes from time.
One of the main reasons behind this upturn in fortunes was the arrival of striker Raúl De Tomás in the winter transfer window. The former Real Madrid man, who spent loan periods with Rayo Vallecano and Real Valladolid, made a lucrative move to Benfica in the summer of last year, but his time in Portugal did not see him achieve the goal-scoring feats that he accomplished in his native country. In January of this year, De Tomás made the switch to Espanyol and immediately picked up where he had left off. He scored on his debut, a 2-0 win in the Copa del Rey against Lleida Esportiu, and subsequently netted in his first four league matches: against Villarreal, Athletic Club, a penalty against Granada, then the only goal in the victory over Real Mallorca. Thankfully for Real Valladolid, he will miss this match due to a groin strain sustained the day before they played Sevilla which will keep him out of action for another few weeks. To put his fast start to life back in Spain into perspective, his goal tally of five in as many matches equals that of Real Valladolid’s top scorer – Sergi Guardiola – who has netted the same amount in 23 games. He will be deputised upfront in this match by Jonathan Calleri who has scored just once in the league this season.
In the home camp, Sergio’s side will continue to be without the influential Joaquín, who picked up a sprained ankle in the home defeat to Real Madrid three weeks ago. He has performed well in a central midfield role, despite being a defender by trade. Rubén Alcaraz will continue in midfield in his absence, partnering Míchel and Guardiola will play up front with Enes Ünal. New signing Matheus Fernandes has yet to feature in a matchday squad since his arrival last month, and Hatem Ben Arfa has played just once. Neither of them were included in the squad for this match.
Since succumbing to the Periquitos 1-0 at the José Zorrilla in October 2001, there have been eight occasions where Real Valladolid have hosted Espanyol. Pucela have not been defeated in any of them, winning three times and drawing on five occasions. However, they have struggled against Espanyol in general, winning only twice of the last 11 meetings between them.
In season 2018/19, the teams met in Valladolid in October 2018, with the Round 10 match finishing a draw as Daniele Verde’s sublime freekick in the 91stminute salvaged a point and cancelled out Borja Iglesias’s rocket of an opener. In Round 26, Espanyol prevailed at the RCDE Stadium by a score of 3-1 in Match 2019. Iglesias opened the scoring after just one minute, before Rubén Alcaraz levelled shortly after quarter of an hour. On the stroke of halftime, Real Valladolid were awarded a penalty but Sergi Guardiola failed to convert it. This proved pivotal as Espanyol went ahead ten minutes after the restart through Mario Hermoso (an ex-Real Valladolid loan player) and Wu Lei added a third on 65 minutes.
The first meeting of the sides this season saw Pucela travel to Barcelona in Round 7where they emerged 2-0 winners, thanks to a Míchel penalty on 25 minutes and, following the dismissal of former Real Valladolid defender Fernando Calero in his first match against his old side, Óscar Plano iced the match with a superbly taken finish deep in stoppage time.
Real Valladolid’s home record (two wins out of 11) is second-worst only to Espanyol with one win. Late goals have been a problem lately, as the blanquivioletas have conceded a goal in the 75thminute or later in five of their last eight outings. However, this may not be as much of a problem against Sunday’s opponents as the Barcelona-based outfit have mustered only two away goals later than the hour mark.