The Andalucians have been going well lately, but they’ll be fully tested by los Periquitos...
Eliminated from the Copa del Rey as expected by Barcelona on Wednesday evening, Almeria can forget their dream of lifting any silverware this season and must instead focus on avoiding the nightmare of relegation. Their next test comes in the form of a very able Espanyol side, who are in the thick of challenging for the Champions League.
Even against a fringe Barcelona team, Almeria could make no headway against the Catalans, who boasted a 13-0 aggregate score against the Andalucians prior to the semi-final second leg on Wednesday. Jose Luis Oltra’s side went down 3-0 in midweek, but the coach wasn’t too bothered about the final outcome.
“The Copa has allowed us to escape our league classification, and we have enjoyed it more, which is why we have done so well,” he explained to the press. “But now, we must refocus. This match [against Barcelona] should not cause us any problems because everyone did well. I was always preparing for our next match instead of focusing solely on Barcelona.
“If we can avoid relegation, this will be the best season for the side in our history.”
Almeria lie second bottom of the standings, but their momentum has been broadly positive in recent weeks, and if they were to take anything against Espanyol at the weekend, that trend would continue.
Hope Still Lives
Espanyol’s quest to finish fourth in the Primera Division was given a buffeting last weekend, when they suffered just their second home defeat of the season. Prior to the visit of Villarreal, Barcelona were the only outfit to have successfully visited Cornella-El Prat, where la Blaugrana picked up an emphatic 5-0 victory, and though the Yellow Submarine’s win was not as emphatic, it was just as important.
Los Periquitos are at something of a crossroads in their campaign; they can either sink or swim. Though on the field their results have been impressive, away from the pitch they have been forced to sell promising defenders Victor Ruiz and Didac because of their inclement financial position. Additionally, leading scorer Pablo Osvaldo has been hit by a medium-term injury, which has hampered their attacking potential.
“We have not dismantled the team. We would have done if we had sold Osvaldo, Baena and Javi Marquez. We sold two players but I’d be lying if I said it will not affect the team,” sporting director Ramon Planes frankly admitted to Marca, perhaps suggesting that the final run before the end of the season will be too long for his side to realistically keep pace.
Last weekend’s match against Villarreal wasn’t a total write-off, and does suggest that this Espanyol side still has legs. Coach Mauricio Pochettino argued after the game that he thought a draw would have been a fairer result.
Even at full strength, the Barcelona club have struggled to find their best level away from home, so Saturday’s encounter against Almeria is a big clash, and a potentially defining one for the club’s campaign.
Carlos Garcia will sit this fixture out as he has a one-match suspension to serve. A virus has rendered Luna a doubt, while Juan Ortiz is injured.
Raul Baena is closing in on full fitness, but it’s not expected he’ll be available for the weekend’s clash. Also absent is Aldo Duscher, who was booked for a fifth time this season against Villarrea.
Long-term problems in the form of Ivan de la Pena, Ernesto Galan and Felipe Mattioni persist, and Pablo Osvaldo is not ready to return yet.