Espanyol: Giant slayers of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid
They have beaten Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the past two months but serious questions remain.
Gerard Moreno’s dramatic 93rd minute winner on Tuesday night completed a remarkable treble for Espanyol.
The Spanish striker’s goal downed Real Madrid a month after Oscar Melendo’s strike two minutes from time defeated Barcelona in the Copa del Rey.
And again, just before Christmas, Sergio Garcia netted at the death to beat Atletico Madrid.
Sandwiched in-between was a league draw with their Catalan neighbours as Gerard Pique’s late point rescued a point for Ernesto Valverde’s side.
‘Sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe s**t’
Each win was notable in its own way: the loss was Diego Simeone’s side’s only league defeat of the campaign, while the January result was Barcelona’s first domestic defeat of the campaign since before the start of the league campaign.
Madrid had scored 30 goals in their previous 7 league outings prior to Tuesday, in which they dropped only two points.
Yet Quique Sanchez Flores has recently endured the indignity of his side’s fans waving white handkerchiefs in his direction, signalling their dissatisfaction with the direction of the side.
Going into the current round of fixtures, Espanyol sat just five places above the foot of the table and have managed to score a paltry 23 goals in 26 league outings.
A lack of flexibility
The Catalan side are resilient and tough to beat, often sitting with two deep banks of four and happy to soak up pressure, allowing their opponents to enjoy the lion’s share of possession.
This has worked to notable success against the top three sides in the division. Yet the rigid and inflexibility of these tactics had not been altered to notable success against their remaining 16 league opponents.
Each of the three victories noted came with goals at the death, which is a natural consequence of their opponents showing more intent in the closing stages and pushing for late winners themselves.
The nature of these wins are not replicated against sides of lesser structure as they are not as willing to take risks and therefore leave themselves exposed.
Punching below their weight?
Fans of Espanyol do not expect their side to be challenging for a top-four slot but – not unreasonably – they cannot understand why they are not pursuing a European slot.
Last season they managed a respectable eighth-placed finish yet their efforts this time around look set to fall well short and a top-half showing appears unlikely.
Girona are in the top flight for the first time in their history and are outperforming their Catalan neighbours – being demoted to the third strongest side in the region is a bitter pill to swallow for Los Periquitos.
Girona are challenging for a European slot alongside Getafe and Eibar: two other clubs who are significantly smaller than Espanyol.
Left with regrets?
There are talented players within the ranks – young full-back Aaron Martin has been linked with both Manchester clubs while in-form striker Moreno is tipped as an outside bet for Spain’s World Cup squad.
Yet the promised investment from the Chinese ownership has not quite materialised and the club are still heavily reliant upon loan deals and affordable transfers.
Sanchez Flores’s job may be saved by his side’s heroics against the league’s leading lights but he must surely be left regretting the failure to replicate these performances on a more consistent basis.
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