Los Nervionenses will have been boosted by their midweek performance, and a win at the weekend could really get them going...
Not too many sides emerge from El Madrigal undefeated, but Sevilla achieved that feat on Wednesday evening, earning an impressive 3-3 draw with Villarreal. It may only have been a Copa del Rey encounter, but given the struggles of Sevilla, that result will have given Gregorio Manzano’s side a good deal of confidence ahead of an important match against Espanyol.
The former Mallorca coach was keen to downplay the result, which was earned thanks to a late effort from central defender Alexis. “There is nothing gained by both sides, but the result can now be claimed at home in front of our fans next week,” Manzano told the press after the game. “Our aim now is to tighten our defence, as we have conceded too many goals.”
It’s not difficult to find reasons for the coach’s reluctance to celebrate the draw, given the miserable five match losing streak that Sevilla suffered in the lead-up to Christmas. But 2011 seems to have brought something of a new dawn for the Andalucians, who have won both of their league matches, including a tricky away tie against Real Sociedad.
Even off the back of all these positive results, los Nervionenses still don’t look especially convincing, but their recent achievements cannot be questioned and they are looking a far strong team than they did before the recess in the season. Three points against an Espanyol side fifth in the standings would really help to kick-start their campaign.
Home Pluses, Away Minuses
After losing three games over the Christmas period, including a derby encounter against Barcelona, Espanyol bounced back impressively, thoroughly outplaying bottom club Zaragoza at the Cornella-El Prat to earn a resounding 4-0 victory. The Aragon side were blown away by three first half goals, but the joy of this win was quickly tempered by news of an injury to ace striker Pablo Osvaldo, who will miss two months of action.
“I’m more pleased with the performance of the team than with the result,” coach Mauricio Pochettino told the media post-match on Sunday. “We have made a great collective effort with the ball and without it.”
Unexpectedly riding high in sixth place in the standings, the success of Pochettino’s side has been almost wholly based upon a remarkable home record. With the exception of that loss to Barca, los Periquitos have been flawless at their base, but they’ve been poor away from home. In nine road games, they’ve earned only seven points, which is not a tally befitting of a team chasing Champions League football.
Since suffering big losses against Villarreal and Real Madrid early in the season, both of which were unflattering towards the Catalan club, defeats on their travels have tended to be tight. Athletic Bilbao required a late goal to down Espanyol prior to Christmas, and there was a frustrating repetition of that script against Valencia a fortnight ago.
If the Barcelona club can keep going right to the very end, defeat is not inevitable.
Luis Fabiano has been training apart from the squad since the Copa del Rey match in midweek, but he’s looking good for a place in the squad at the weekend. Andres Palop and Federico Fazio are both making good progress in their recoveries from injury, while Ivica Dragutinovic and Sergio Sanchez are said to be looking almost at prime condition.
Pablo Osvaldo has undergone adductor surgery in Argentine but is not forecast to be back for eight weeks. David Garcia, Javi Lopez and David Lopez are all closing in on action, though they will be checked thoroughly before the weekend.
Ivan de la Pena, Ernesto Galan and Felipe Mattioni are long standing injury issues.