17:15 BST, Sunday 26th August, Cornella-El Prat (Barcelona), Eleven Sports
A first win of the campaign is up for grabs as Espanyol host Valencia in a meeting between two teams who started their seasons with 1-1 draws last weekend.
The widespread expectation is for the sides to be heading in different directions in the coming months. With Espanyol tipped for a battle against relegation after a tough summer in the transfer market, Valencia are hoping to maintain their position in the top four with the help of some significant new additions.
Espanyol will be eager to dispel that perception in their home opener. New coach Rubi is hoping to take his first chance to impress his new club’s fans following a pretty turgid campaign under previous boss Quique Sanchez Flores.
Valencia, though, did enough in Monday’s draw against Atletico Madrid to suggest they are more than ready for another successful season. They will be happy with nothing less than three points from this game.
Last Time Out
Celta Vigo 1-1 Espanyol (La Liga)
Espanyol were happy to come away from their opening fixture with a point after earning a draw at Celta Vigo.
The visitors went ahead on the stroke of half-time when a corner dropped to defender Mario Hermoso, who finished in style with a powerful strike.
Espanyol surrendered their lead in unfortunate circumstances early in the second half, when defender David Lopez – under heavy pressure from Iago Aspas – diverted a dangerous cross off the far post and over the line for an own goal.
The visitors had the better opportunities to win it in the latter stages when veteran striker Sergio Garcia came close on a couple of occasions after appearing from the bench. In the end, though, the draw was a fair result.
Valencia 1-1 Atletico Madrid (La Liga)
Frontman Rodrigo Moreno – still linked with a move to Real Madrid – showed his value to Valencia by netting a splendid equaliser to earn a merited point in an exciting showdown with Atletico Madrid on Monday night.
The visitors went ahead through Angel Correa in a commanding first half which regularly had Valencia on the ropes.
REUTERS/Heino KalisHowever, the hosts responded superbly in the second half and levelled when debutant midfielder Daniel Wass nodded down for Rodrigo to decisively thrash a rising strike into the roof of the net.
Valencia had the best late chances to win it through Wass and another debutant, Kevin Gameiro. However, their low shots lacked the power to beat Jan Oblak in the visiting goal.
Rubi is rather bereft of quality options as he heads into his first home game in charge of Espanyol: the summer transfer market depriving him of last season’s best two players as Gerard Moreno departed to Villarreal and Aaron Martin joined Mainz.
The goal-scoring burden will fall chiefly upon striker Borja Iglesias, a summer signing from Celta Vigo who is expected to keep 35-year-old fan-favourite Sergio Garcia out of the starting line-up.
Experienced defender Sergio Sanchez is missing through injury.
Visiting manager Marcelino will probably be forced to reshuffle his defence after central defender Ezequiel Garay limped off during the draw with Atletico.
He was replaced by Mouctar Diakhaby, a summer signing from Lyon who is now set to gain his first start.
Frontman Santi Mina will face increasing pressure for his place after an uninspiring opening day appearance against Atletico with summer arrivals Kevin Gameiro and Michy Batshuayi – who both made their debuts from the bench – vying to replace him.
Midfielder Francis Coquelin remains sidelined by injury.
Key Battle: Victor Sanchez (Espanyol) vs Geoffrey Kondogbia (Valencia)
The midfield battleground will be fought out between two battle-hardened performers will excel in doing the ugly side of the game extremely well as veteran Espanyol midfielder goes up against formidable Frenchman Geoffrey Kondogbia.
The stats from the opening weeks of the season tell their own story: Sanchez recovered possession on seven occasions against Celta Vigo, making four tackles and gaining three interceptions, and Kondogbia precisely matched those figures in Valencia’s draw with Atletico Madrid.
Action Images via Reuters/Ed SykesNeither Sanchez nor Kondogbia are particularly creative players and they don’t offer too much going forward, but their physicality will be crucial in creating time and space for more technically gifted teammates such as Sergi Darder for the hosts and visiting skipper Dani Parejo.
Sanchez has spent a lot of the last few seasons operating as a full back but he is historically a central midfielder and new boss Rubi appears keen to utilise the 30-year-old in that role this season.
Going up against Kondogbia will not be easy but he will relish the fight.
Can Iglesias answer Espanyol’s prayers?
The news that every Espanyol fan was fearing was delivered in the summer with the long-anticipated sale of star striker Gerard Moreno who returned to his former club Villarreal in a €11 million transfer which looks like a bargain for a player on the fringes of the Spanish national squad.
Moreno scored 44% of his team’s goals last season (16 out of 36) and fans of Los Pericos are understandably fearful that his departure will make a team which was already one of the most shot-shy in La Liga even less effective in front of goal.
The man tasked with replacing him is Borja Iglesias, a new signing from Celta Vigo who has hardly any top flight experience but caught the eye with 22 goals during a loan spell at second tier Real Zaragoza last season.
If he can’t make the step up, Espanyol will be in trouble.
New partner for Rodrigo?
Rodrigo Moreno is the talk of the town for Valencia and the club’s fans are hoping that will remain the case all season amid speculation of a potential imminent move to Real Madrid.
But however well he plays, Rodrigo would benefit from significantly more help in attack than he received from strike partner Santi Mina against Atletico on Monday.
Action Images via Reuters/Ed SykesIt feels like Mina is on borrowed time before his place in the pecking order is overtaken by new signings Michy Batshuayi and Kevin Gameiro.
Which of the two should be elevated into the starting eleven is a tricky question for boss Marcelino, who will probably need to see more of them before deciding.
But it could well be that Gameiro’s electric page makes him ideal for the super-sub role to stretch tiring defences, so don’t be surprised to see Batshuayi swiftly become a starter.
Prediction: Espanyol 0-2 Valencia
Looking at the two teams it’s hard to escape contrasting conclusions: you can’t see where Espanyol’s goals are coming from whereas Valencia boast an abundance of striking options.
With their strong defensive organisation and the fluidity of skipper Dani Parejo in midfield, that combination should be enough to secure a comfortable away win against a team which looks set to struggle this term.
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