THE REASONS BEHIND ESPANYOL’S DEMOTION FROM LA LIGA THIS SEASON
Real Club Deportivo Espanyol, more commonly known among football fans as Espanyol, are one of the three teams to get relegated from the Spanish top-flight football competition La Liga this season. They will have to ply their wares in the second-division competition La Liga 2 in the 2020/21 season and aim to come back to the upper echelons by putting in strong performances.
Along with Leganes and Mallorca, Espanyol have been demoted from La Liga after the end of the 2019/20 season and it will come as a big blow to them. Although Leganes came pretty close to salvaging themselves with a string of good results of late, having been unbeaten in their last five matches (three wins and two draws) including a 2–2 stalemate with league champions Real Madrid in their last fixture, Espanyol were poor throughout the season and undoubtedly deserved to get relegated.
Based in the city of Barcelona in Catalonia, the team saw a flurry of managers being appointed and sacked during the 2019/20 season. It was strange to note that Espanyol went through four managers during the season and such a lack of stability certainly did not help its players.
They began the season with David Gallego, who was replaced by Pablo Machin, who was in turn replaced by Abelardo Fernandez, who was later sacked due to a string of poor results and has been replaced by former club right-winger Francisco Rufete, who is set to lead the team into the Segunda Division (or La Liga 2) in the 2020/21 season.
There is no explanation as to why the club hierarchy chose to do this (although it is obvious that the poor results were not helping) as such chopping and changing at the managerial level seldom works. Undoubtedly, the players must have felt the wrath and having no particular philosophy to look up to and adhere has surely hindered their cause.
INADEQUATE OVERALL PERFORMANCE
As the season ended, Espanyol’s numbers made for grim reading. Out of the 38 games they had contested, they had lost 23, drawn ten and won a mere five games. Their goal difference was a staggering -31, which was the least among any club in La Liga. They were also joint second with Mallorca with the most number of matches lost. This will have surely infuriated the side from Barcelona and they must do something to get their mojo back. It is going to be a very difficult task but one that can be achieved with a bit of patience.
Their first win in La Liga came against SD Eibar on 15 September in a 2–1 win, but they went almost a month without any positive performance, until a 1–0 win against Levante came on 27 October.
Sadly, however, their next victory took almost three months to come, when they shocked a well-placed Villarreal 2–1 on 19 January. Strangely, all of these victories had come away from home, which showed that Espanyol did well when they were not put under the pressure of expectations from their home fans.
Two more wins followed, against Mallorca in February and Deportivo Alaves in June, but alas, that was all there was to it. It has to be noted that Espanyol had qualified for the UEFA Europa League this season, and have in fact put in some strong performances there, which included a few memorable performances against heavyweights such as Wolverhampton Wanderers from England and CSKA Moscow from Russia. However, it was their poor showing in La Liga that got the tongues wagging. Pundits, spectators, fans and aficionados from across the world were confused and started debating heavily regarding what had gone wrong for the Catalans and what could be done to prevent another such free fall in the future.
POOR GOALSCORING OPTIONS
There can be many indicators as to why a team has been performing poorly and as to why it has not been able to live up to its promise but there is nothing more significant and distinctive than its goalscoring charts. Espanyol’s leading goalscorer in the league this season was, strangely, central defensive midfielder David Lopez with four strikes to his name.
To be fair to their attackers, centre forward Raul de Tomas and winger Lei Wu too have four goals each in their kitty too but that is a shockingly low total. There is no way that a side can progress beyond the expanses of the relegation zone if its attackers do not churn out strong performances day in and day out. Football is ultimately a game where the number of goals matter and whichever team scores more of them wins.
Therefore, it was disappointing that Espanyol’s attacking players did not turn up at all this season. To put things into perspective, it has to be noted that the Catalans have scored a mere 27 goals in La Liga this season.
Also on the list is centre half Bernardo Espinosa with three strikes. This particular piece of statistic just goes to show how poor Espanyol have been in the attacking half of their opponents this season. Right-winger Adrian Embarba has been at the forefront of providing assists, with four to his name, with centre forward Jonathan Calleri with three as well but there is very little that can be spoken of the players who are below them on the list.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that losing players of quality such as Borja Iglesias to Real Betis and Mario Hermoso to Atletico Madrid will have dented Espanyol’s squad but there is very little that current caretaker manager Rufete can do. All that he can do at the moment is ensure that the side gets ready in time to face the music in the Segunda Division and do so well that they are promoted back to La Liga in their first attempt.
MISERABLE DEFENSIVE SHOWING
Not just content with a poor showing on the attacking front, Espanyol have had a bad time defending their own goalpost too. On an average, they have conceded 11.7 shots at goal per game, which is a very worrying statistic indeed. If a side allows the opposition to smell the ball so clearly in their attacking half and give them such wide spaces, then there is no secret as to why they have conceded 58 goals in the league this season. They have also made only 16.5 tackles on an average per game which is moderate to say the least. The fact that their average interception rate is below 10 (9.5 to be precise) is also something that has hurt their cause tremendously.
Defensively, Espanyol’s discipline has been far below than the norm. In the whole season, they were awarded a whopping 95 yellow cards as well as 9 red cards. This goes to show how poor they have been in tracking the opposition as well as keeping them close to themselves. In general, Espanyol have had man-marking issues throughout the season and their central defenders have been left ruing the mistakes that they had made.
Strangely, central midfielder and club captain Javi Lopez was perhaps the only shining light for the side in their defence, despite having made only seventeen appearances. Victor Sanchez and Didac Villa were a little ways behind Lopez but their performances were nowhere near as good for their side to compete with the other top clubs in the league.
Espanyol’s midfield has not been without its problems either. In the 38 La Liga games they contested this season, their possession percentage on average was a disappointing 47.5. This kind of a number is extremely poor coming from a top-flight football club and also explains why they gave the ball away whenever they had it within their grasp. There is seldom any chance for a side to succeed attacking-wise if they do not keep possession of the ball. This has hurt Espanyol tremendously this season. Their midfielders, led by David Lopez and Sergi Darder, simply did not keep the ball with themselves when the occasion demanded nor did they supply it to their attackers when the situation favoured them.
With the possible exception of Adrian Embarba, none of their midfielders made regular key passes. Although Marc Roca and David Lopez’s pass success percentages (81 and 82 respectively) were very good, they were let down by the lack of commitment of those around them. It is also the job of central midfielders to protect their defenders from possible onslaughts from the opposition whenever the ball was lost, but somehow Espanyol’s players managed to shrug this responsibility of theirs. They cannot be faulted for a lack of trying, but it simply did not come off and they will have a whole season (possibly more if they fail to do well in the Segunda Division) to reflect on their shortcomings.
All the reasons stated above have played crucial roles in ensuring Espanyol’s demotion from La Liga this season. Although a few of their performances in the UEFA Europa League will be remembered by their fans and critics alike, they have to get their act together quickly if they want to come back to La Liga and showcase what they are really made of.