Manuel Veth –
Espanyol vs CSKA Moscow – Thursday, December 12, 20:00 GMT/21:00 CET – Campo Nuevo Municipal de Llobregat, Barcelona – Spain
Too many clubs in higher-ranked leagues, UEFA’s second-tier competition is little more than an unwelcome distraction from the constant crusade to qualify for its more glamorous elite cousin. In more drastic cases, the theory goes that it can threaten relegation with the extra workload of midweek matches and distant travel to contend with. Espanyol are an unusual case of suffering badly in domestic matters – they sit bottom of La Liga, five points from safety – but rather comfortably negotiating their Europa League group stage. Pablo Machin has rotated the side a fair bit between the competitions to allow a fresh approach and it is paying off on a continental level at least.
The former Sevilla manager has a reputation for spotting and nurturing talents and working with limited resources. Under his guidance, Girona gained promotion to Spain’s top flight and not just survived but competed in mid-table. Cynics will point out that they were supported to a degree by the City Football Group’s relationship which saw a number of young talents loaned to the Catalan minnows. To dismiss Machin’s influence as he managed to challenge far more established clubs would be to do a huge disservice to his coaching philosophy.
He took over a sinking ship so to speak. Upon his arrival in early October, they were already 19th with just one win and one clean sheet under their belts. Since then they have added one more of each but have slipped to 20th, and with little hope of holding onto their prized assets, the task facing Machín is arguably even more monumental than that presented to him at Girona. The Chinese owners are not famed for their patience, and will not take at all kindly to the devaluing of their brand. Europa League success will only hold off the vultures for so long.
CSKA Moscow have gone from the sublimely ridiculous to the outright pathetic in the space of a year. Those two epic wins over Real Madrid combined with finishing bottom of their Champions League group made little sense, and yet it seemed entirely in sync with the classic glorious failure of Russian clubs in Europe in recent years. This season could not have felt more different. The whimper with which they entered, continued and limped through this year is enough to leave any team embarrassed, let alone a former winner of the competition’s predecessor.
For all the scintillating promise of the refreshing crop of youngsters recruited from the club’s youth system and from lesser-scouted markets, there has been an element of mental fragility when the bigger games come along. With nothing left to play for it could offer a glimpse into the real motivation levels of the players; are they opportunistic, or do they have the drive to win when there is nothing pushing them over the line?
There will be little attention paid to this fixture by neutral observers and fans of the game, understandably so given the lack of importance the result will carry for either side. With no action until March, Goncharenko could personally do with ending this part of the season on a more positive note or he will be able to do very little in response to the growing discontent at the lack of progress made this term. For CSKA followers, there is a lot more riding on this than one might imagine.
Espanyol vs CSKA Moscow – Players to Watch
Pol Lozano #26 – Espanyol
An unexpected luxury in an otherwise barren season for the Catalan side is the fact that absolutely nothing is riding on this fixture. On offshoot of this is the chance to keep senior players fresh, and to offer younger prospects a chance to gain a modicum of experience without much risk of damaging their confidence. Lozano is one such likely beneficiary. Despite having just 17 minutes of league football under his belt, he has been given plenty of game time in the Europa League and also has the boost of four under-21 caps this autumn. With a dispirited opponent to face, the central midfielder has the perfect platform to bid for a more permanent role.
Alan Dzagoev #10 – CSKA Moscow
There is almost nothing positive to be taken from CSKA’s season so far, particularly in the Europa League, but the return of the brittle but brilliant playmaker Dzagoev is about as good as it gets. The squad is almost unrecognisable since the last sustained period of fitness he had and in truth his absence has not been greatly felt with the form of Arnor Sigurdsson and Nikola Vlasic in advanced roles. However, if CSKA are to resurrect their season in the spring they will need a pinch of experience and guile on the ball that Dzagoev can offer. A commanding performance under discouraging circumstances could prompt his manager into using him more consistently next year.
Espanyol vs CSKA Moscow – Match Stats
- Espnayol have already secured top spot with an unbeaten group-stage campaign
- They remain bottom of La Liga though, having picked up just one point from their last six domestic fixtures and conceding 15 goals in that run
- In Europe they have won 11 of their last 12 home games, and haven’t lost to non-Spanish opposition in their last 25 matches in continental competition
- CSKA Moscow are guaranteed to finish bottom of the group after winning none of their five games and scoring just two goals, the second-lowest tally across the whole competition
- Before this season, the only away defeats CSKA Moscow had suffered in the Europa League had come in the knockout stages. Now they have failed to win in the last three
- They are unbeaten in their last seven away matches in all competitions
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Espanyol vs CSKA Moscow: 1-0
Espanyol vs CSKA Moscow – Possible Lineups
Diego López – Lluis López, Calero, Espinosa – Gómez, Darder, Lozano, Roca, Melendo – Wu Lei, Campuzano
Manager: Pablo Machín
Akinfeev – Karpov, Diveev, Magnusson – Fernandes, Oblyakov, Bistrović, Kuchaev – Dzagoev, Vlašić – Chalov
Manager: Viktor Goncharenko
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.