Mike Holden previews Saturday evening's La Liga clash between Espanyol and Deportivo.
Attendances can vary wildly in La Liga due to crazy scheduling and the relative importance of any given fixture in the context of a season. The role this can play on the outcome of matches shouldn’t be underestimated. Home teams can be galvanised and away teams intimidated, and this should definitely be classified a Category A fixture for Espanyol.
Having attracted just 14,155 people to Cornella-El Prat for a Monday night graveyard shift against Real Sociedad a fortnight ago, which perhaps played its part in the lethargic performance that brought about an embarrassing 5-0 defeat, the Pericos are now expecting a crowd of around 36,000 for this nicely-timed Saturday afternoon clash.
Just as Valencia rallied at Espanyol’s expense a week ago, it’s time for everyone to pull together and get the season back on track. The Catalan outfit are now hovering precariously above the relegation zone, just one point ahead of Las Palmas, following an eight-match winless streak since the winter break.
But beneath the veneer of renewed spirit and togetherness is a ready-made scapegoat in Constantin Galca. The former Steaua Bucharest boss isn’t quite as bulletproof as Gary Neville, despite 123 appearances as a midfielder for the Pericos in the late 1990s. This is largely being billed as a make-or-break moment in his tenure. Lose this game, and it’s almost certainly curtains.
However, the response to the debacle against La Real was promising. Galca changed the system, switching from the bog-standard 4-2-3-1 preferred by most mid-ranking Spanish teams to 4-4-2 with the emphasis on five distinct partnerships. The Pericos registered 20 shots at Mestalla, more than double their average, 10 of which hit the target, around three times the average.
Wide men Burgio and Marco Asensio were the two most influential performers on the day and the emphasis on width also produced nine corners, more than double the average when playing the old formation. It was from one of those corners that Espanyol broke the deadlock, with Oscar Duarte rising unchallenged in the six yard box to power home a header.
The Costa Rican centre back, who you may recall scoring a header against Uruguay at the World Cup, was making his full debut following a January switch from Club Brugge and he’s worth backing to repeat the trick on his home debut. The 20/1 anytime scorer price is incredible value on a player who netted seven times in 82 starts on Belgian soil.
My ratings make Deportivo favourites, not surprisingly given Espanyol’s recent run, but they too are winless in eight and the news that talisman Lucas Perez has stayed in Galicia with a niggling calf injury raises the suspicion that this is indeed an excellent opportunity for the Pericos to kick-start their season with a much-needed win.
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