La Liga round up – Espanyol lacking the imagination to fulfil their ambitions

Lowly Leganés, who finished second in their regionalised Group II table of Spain’s third tier of football in 2014, went joint top of the table over the weekend with a 1-0 win away at Espanyol.

Yes, we’re only two weeks into the season and nobody expects them to stay there too long. But the victory in Cornellà made their hosts look upon them with a touch of greed at their, albeit early, league position, as Espanyol were hoping for a lot more out of this game.

Now under the tutelage of former Atleti and Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores, Espanyol have been under a process of rebuilding for a few years now with legitimate hopes of breaking into a level above their current status and make European qualification a regular thing.

Results like this however, will leave many sceptical of their chances of making that happen.

Espanyol have technically good players in their squad, but worryingly, they lacked imagination against one of the poorest squads in La Liga. Leganés’s game is based on defensive solidity and making quick breaks, working the ball up the field in small packs.

Los Periquitos found it very difficult to break down their four-man and later five-man defence, and only found some joy when attempting long crosses, either directly into the box or preceded by a perspective-switching cross-field ball prior to sending the ball into the box.

This severely limited Espanyol’s chances of creating any meaningful chances or truly worrying Iván Cuellar in Leganés’s goal, who at plenty of times showed poor handling which could have presented lucky opportunities for Espanyol with more effective crossing.

Time and time again Quique Sanchez Flores’s team were incapable of making two or three consecutive passes that weren’t sideways across their own defensive line, and don’t look like bothering the likes of Athletic Bilbao, Villarreal, or Real Sociedad for the Europa League positions any time soon.

Return of a hero

Bereft of ideas, Espanyol looked to a club hero to bail them out of this embarrassing hole.

The home crowd were agitated but filled with first-home-game-of-the-season optimism as their side had some momentum behind them attacking the Leganés penalty area, and Flores picked a good moment with the crowd already raucous to introduce Sergio Garcia into the game.

Garcia was making his first game in an Espanyol shirt for two years as he’s been away with Al-Rayyan in the Qatari Stars League. Most had thought he had gone to the Middle East to wind down his career, and didn’t expect to see the 34 year-old lining out in La Liga again.

But two successful years in Qatar, replete with titles and trophies, Espanyol decided he was good enough to bring back to their project.

Leganés couldn’t have cared less about his emotional return, as they largely snuffed out any chances that nearly fell his way.

Leo Baptistao moved to the right wing to accommodate Sergio Garcia in his central striker role, and through his 35 plus minutes on the pitch he had one good run at the visitors’ goal but failed to really produce anything.

Throughout the 90 minutes, Espanyol failed to show any real sparks of creativity, and played a very predictable game based on crosses against the team that currently leads the league statistically in aerial duals won.

Pablo Piatti, Leo Baptistao, and Gerard Moreno are players that can thrive on a style of play rooted in technique and speed.

Quique Sanchez Flores can give the Blanquiazules the defensive and midfield organisation and solidity that they were missing before his arrival, but the signs so far say that he won’t be able to take them much further than mid-table.

Valencia show guile in game of the week

Late on Sunday night, a new-look Valencia traveled to the Bernabéu to play the current best team in the world. Valencia have been something of a La Liga laughing stock in recent years since their 2014/15 fourth placed finish under Nuno Espírito Santo, but the picture looks very different now under ex-Villarreal coach Marcelino.

In a league where competition for the title of worst run club is as high as the quality of the players on show, Peter Lim stands out in this category.

They’ve been crying out for a long time for a manager that would be let manage the team and get the players in that he wants.

Marcelino appears to have been given that backing, and things are starting to look very bright on the east coast.

Geoffrey Kondogbia made his Valencia debut in the Bernabéu, after recently arriving from Inter Milan, and his impact on this team is already clear.

The robust French midfielder offered stability and quality to Los Che, and even popped up with their second goal to take the lead.

Kondogbia offered one of the best post-game quotes we’ll hear this season, after a journalist asked him: “What did you think of the absence of the best player in the world?,” to which Kondogbia, unperturbed by any idea of a hostile media in Spain after his first game replied:

I didn’t know Leo Messi played in Madrid!

Valencia’s Carlos Soler is going to enjoy a breakout season that could see him spoken about as one of Spain’s finest young talents – and that’s even being said after a game in which Marco Asensio scored two more amazing trademark strikes.

Their simple, structured 4-4-2 is the formation of choice of Marcelino, and the early signs are showing promising, even if they do look light in certain areas of their starting XI.

Valencia look ready to enjoy a much more fruitful season in 2017/18, and could end up pushing for a European place before Espanyol can.

And also…

Real Betis opened up a new stand in their Estadio Benito Villamarín to a roaring 45,761 fans, and they made their presence felt. Betis beat Celta Vigo 2-1, and all three goals were headers. Before the game the club released this impressive timelapse video on their social channels:

Denied last week at the death, Girona finally got their first La Liga victory! They beat Málaga 1-0.

Real Sociedad are looking very impressive with two wins from two, and six goals scored to lead the league. They beat fellow Europa League competitors Villarreal 3-0.

For the second week in a row, Levante were saved by a late penalty. Last week they beat Villarreal late to win 1-0, this week, with ten men, they completed a comeback from 0-2 to earn a point against Deportivo La Coruña.

Goal of the Week: Enir Bardhi’s long-range pinpoint free kick rocket to start the heroic comeback for Levante.

Although, Las Palmas 1-5 Atletico Madrid had plenty of contenders…

Player of the Week: Marco Asensio takes the award this week for his two brilliant goals against Valencia. It’s beginning to feel like whenever he plays, he scores wonder-goals. Demanding to take the free kick for his second goal over much more senior players in the Real Madrid team showed another level of maturity of this young phenomenon.

La Liga Week 2 results: Real Sociedad 3-0 Villarreal, Real Betis 2-1 Celta Vigo, Alavés 0-2 Barcelona, Girona 1-0 Málaga, Levante 2-2 Deportivo La Coruña, Las Palmas 1-5 Atletico Madrid, Eibar 0-1 Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol 0-1 Leganés, Getafe 0-1 Sevilla, Real Madrid 2-2 Valencia.

The Author

Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields is an Irish football writer currently living in Barcelona, focusing on Spain's La Liga. Interests include the intersection of politics and football, football history, and smaller, humble teams with noisy, boisterous fans.

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