RCDE Stadium, Barcelona – Receiving royal patronage is an honour. An honour that both Espanyol and Real Sociedad have had the privilege of. In 1910 and 1912 respectively, they were permitted to use the term Real in their names and the royal crown in their badges. Both clubs are proud of their history and the traditions that they adhere to. However, the similarities certainly do not end there.
Both are presently managed by highly thought of Spanish managers. Eusebio Sacristan arrived at Real Sociedad in November 2015; the club had endured a dreary spell under David Moyes. The former Celta Vigo and Barcelona B manager went straight to work at improving the moral and feeling around the club. For too long la Real had settled for mediocrity – in 2002/03 they finished second in La Liga, but the four seasons that followed saw them edge closer to the drop and in 2007 they found themselves in Segunda for the first time in 40 years.
Three seasons away from La Liga seemed to increase the hunger and intent of Real Sociedad and this proved true when they qualified for the Champions League in 2013. La Real have a long history in European competition, albeit mainly in the secondary competition, and the 2013/14 season under Jagoba Arrasate promised to be one of the best in recent times. However, they failed to get out of a group that also contained Manchester United.
Although la real drifted back further down the table and into to another state of mediocrity, this season appeared to be different. They were joint top of La Liga with Barcelona after a handful of matches. Their style of play was easy on the eye, thanks mainly to Eusebio who had instilled confidence into his side. There was an energy at Anoeta that had not been seen for some time. But, once again, they’ve drifted. Despite the positivity around the club, they now find themselves in fourteenth place. A disaster? Far from it, but given their capabilities and what they have promised, it is a disappointment. Such that Eusebio – whose name was mentioned as a possible replacement for Luis Enrique at Barcelona in the summer – has felt pressure on his job.
Espanyol, on the other hand, have a manager who was on the verge of leaving the club in January. Quique Sanchez Flores is no stranger to the Premier League, and for a time during January, it appeared that he was to return to England to take charge of Stoke. However, he ended up staying. Sanchez Flores’ arrival in Catalunya coincided with the arrival of the new ownership, who promised that Champions League football would return to this area of Barcelona in the near future. Considering that Espanyol have spent 80 seasons in La Liga but not one in Europe’s premier club competition, it was a tall order. And now, currently positioned thirteenth in the table, it still looks a good distance away.
Los periquitos play a much more pragmatic style than Real Sociedad – a kind of Atletico Madrid II you could say. But Sanchez Flores realises that this is the best way to get the best out of his bunch. Gerard Moreno and Leo Baptistao are crucial in providing the goals in this ‘sit deep and attack quickly’ style. Similar to one of Sanchez Flores’ former clubs in Getafe, they thrive in a defensive set up and entice their opponents into a false sense of security. This possibly explains how they have scored late goals in their past two matches to rescue points.
As both sides met at the RCDE stadium, in a match that pitted the two contrasting styles, it was a case of the loser forgetting any dreams of Europe for next season. Espanyol have been accused of only turning up to matches after the hour mark and it was also the case on Sunday. Real Sociedad dominated the possession and created chances. Mikel Oyarzabal looked lively whilst Asier Illarramendi dictated the play from central midfield. There was the usual round of applause in the 21st minute for former club captain Daniel Jarque but this week it was that bit more sensitive.
The ever-impressive Willian Jose scored the opener for the visitors to give them a deserved lead just before half-time. The Real Sociedad striker was gifted time and space as he approached Pau Lopez in the Espanyol goal before dispatching his fifth goal in six La Liga matches. The match was moving in the direction that many expected. However, Espanyol came out for the second half with much more intent and purpose.
The puerile mistakes that numerous Espanyol players had made in the first period diminished somewhat and the hosts started to create their own chances. Six minutes after the break and the hosts had scored an equaliser – Leo Baptistao received a neat pass from Esteban Granero before slotting past Miguel Angel Moya. Sanchez Flores urged his team on. La Real looked nervy, unable to keep possession. A penalty area scramble somehow ended in the ball being cleared and an Espanyol goal not being scored.
However, with 20 minutes left to play, the home crowd had another goal to celebrate. Espanyol countered quickly and Angel Moya came off his line to smother the ball but also brought down Gerrard Moreno in the process, although the contact was minimal, it was certainly a penalty. The Espanyol striker got to his feet and struck the penalty to Moya’s left but the goalkeeper’s save fell straight to Moreno who dispatched the rebound.
The defeat ended Real Sociedad’s hope of playing in Europe next season – a prospect that looked rather likely earlier on in the season. Their form continues to tail and the early season optimism has well and truly dissipated. Sanchez Flores’ applauded the fans as he made his way to the tunnel after the match. His side are now unbeaten in seven matches and a confidence has returned to Cornella-El Prat. Their style may not be the prettiest but it is certainly working.
Los Otros Puntos
- Real Madrid were not the first team to go to Ipurua this season and endure a battle. Eibar have been some force in La Liga recently – with a European place a distinct possibility – and Saturday afternoon was no different. Eibar started the better as Real’s defence struggled to settle. But just over half an hour had been played when the visitors took the lead against the run of play. The first real attack that Real had sustained ended with Luka Modric threading a superb through ball with the outside of his boot to Cristiano Ronaldo, who finished from 12 yards out. It should have been 2-0 before the break but Marko Dmitrovic in the Eibar net superbly tipped Ronaldo’s deflected shot over the bar. The hosts levelled five minutes into the second half through Ivan Ramis, who got up above Sergio Ramos to power a header past Keylor Navas. Dmitrovic was again providing heroics at the other end saving from Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Eibar still had chances of their own – Takashi Inui headed over the bar from six yards out as the ball awkwardly bounced in front of him before Kike struck wide when he only had Navas to beat. But the match was won with five minutes left – Ronaldo ghosted in between the Eibar centre-backs to power a header into the net from Dani Carvajal’s cross. Eibar fans were disappointed at the full time whistle that they had not at least got a draw – another show of just how far Eibar have come.
- There was a tussle for the last remaining Champions League place at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Valencia went ahead after 25 minutes when Rodrigo was played into the right side of the penalty area by Geoffrey Kondogbia and got ahead of his marker before striking a low shot past Sergio Rico. Sevilla – who travel to Manchester on Tuesday to face Manchester United – went close to an equaliser before half-time when Pablo Sarabia’s header was saved by Neto and Luis Muriel saw his shot hit the crossbar. Rodrigo was then denied by Rico but managed to score his and Valencia’s second of the afternoon. Kondogbia was again the creator with a through-ball that split the Sevilla defence and presented Rodrigo with the goalscoring opportunity. Valencia moved 11 points clear of Sevilla and with that the top four was sealed.
- If this is to be Antoine Griezmann’s last season at Atletico Madrid – which is almost certain – he is certainly going out with a bang. The Frenchman scored the opener against Celta Vigo after a cagey first half and then assisted Vitolo with a great reverse pass. Angel Correa scored the third, four minutes after coming on as a substitute, with a powerful strike.
- Leo Messi was absent – due to the birth of his third child – but Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez made amends. Ousmane Dembele also impressed as Barcelona won at a canter against Malaga. Coutinho’s goal was worth the ticket price alone.
- The yellows met in Gran Canaria but it was Las Palmas who were left feeling blue… and still in the relegation zone.
Girona 2–0 Deportivo
Eibar 1–2 Real Madrid
Sevilla 0–2 Valencia
Getafe 0–1 Levante
Malaga 0–2 Barcelona
Espanyol 2–1 Real Sociedad
Atletico Madrid 3–0 Celta Vigo
Las Palmas 0–2 Villarreal
Athletic Bilbao 2–0 Leganes
Alaves – Real Betis to be played on Monday
El Jugador de la Semana: Geoffrey Kondogbia (Valencia)
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