Manuel Veth –
Espanyol vs Zorya Luhansk – Thursday, August 22, 20:00BST/21:00CEST – RCDE Stadium, Barcelona, Spain
It is not easy to live in the shadow of a giant. Barcelona’s other club Espanyol perhaps know this better than any other club in European football.
Massively overshadowed by their gigantic neighbours FC Barcelona, Espanyol have made some steps towards being recognized as a club in their own rights. Under financial distress, the club was taken over by the Chinese businessman Chen Yansheng on January 20, 2016. The following year the club finished in eighth place, which was followed up with an 11th place finish in 2018 and a seventh-place finish in 2019.
It was a heartbeat final that to the season that saw Espanyol finish in seventh place, snatching up the final European place from Bilbao, which sees the club return to a European competition for the first time since the 2006/07 season. Getting there, however, will not be easy. Espanyol then handsomely defeated Stjarnan and Luzern to reach this stage of the competition but had a setback on matchday 1 of the La Liga season in their 2-0 defeat to Sevilla.
Overall, a disappointing result for head coach David Gallego, who replaced former head coach Rubi this summer. Rubi was in many ways the brain behind Espanyol’s success getting the best out of stars Marc Roca, Borja Iglesias, Mario Hermoso, and the Chinese striker Wei Lu. Borja Iglesias and Mario Hermoso have since left the club, and Marc Roca is heavily linked with a move to Bayern München.
Despite the turnover in the squad, however, Espanyol will be the big the favourites against Zorya. After all, the Ukrainians bearly squeezed past Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia in the third round of Europa League qualifying.
Furthermore, long gone seem the days of attractive football practiced by former head coach Yuri Vernydub. Viktor Skripnik replaced Vernydub this summer, and the former Werder Bremen head coach seems to favour possession-based football over the quick dynamic play that was previously practiced at the club.
The result, has been boring football at the very best of times. Nonetheless, the results speak in Skripnik’s favour as the club has reached the Europa League qualification playoffs and also sits in second place in the Ukrainian Premier Liha. But the bottom line is that Skripnik will have to come up with a tactical masterpiece to get the best out of his side in Spain.
Espanyol vs Zorya Luhansk – Players to look out for:
Lei Wu #7 – Espanyol
Chinese striker Lei Wu has been a big acquisition for Espanyol both on and off the pitch. The 27-year-old native of Nanjing was signed for just €2 million from Shanghai SIPG in January 2019 and has since increased his market value to €10 million thanks to a first season that saw him score three goals and two assists in 16 games. Not a classical striker Wu had to make some adjustments to his play—he previously scored 102 goals in 172 Chinese Super League games—but has highlighted that he can be a good player in one of Europe’s top leagues.
Vladlen Yurchenko #80 – Zorya Luhansk
Vladlen Yurchenko is back in Ukraine after stints at Bayer Leverkusen in Germany and Vejle BK in Denmark. Once considered a promising ball moving midfielder at Bayer Leverkusen, Yurchenko failed to make the next step in his development. It appeared the 25-year-old, despite his talent, was somewhat wasted at Bayer at times, he either did not fit in the concept of the various head coaches or struggled with fitness. A move to Denmark did not provide the hoped-for boost, and he is now looking for a fresh beginning back in Ukraine.
Espanyol vs Zorya Luhansk – Match Stats
- Espanyol have never before faced Ukrainian opposition.
- Espanyol have not qualified for the group stages of a European competition since 2006/07 when they finished second in Group B and where eliminated by Schalke in the round of 32.
- Zorya Luhansk faced Spanish opponent Athletic Bilbao in the group stages of the 2017/18 Europa League season and managed a 1-0 victory on the road in Biblao but lost their home game 2-0.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Espanyol vs Zorya Luhansk – 3-0
Espanyol vs Zorya Luhansk – Lineups
D. López – Vilá, L. López, Naldo, J. López – Sánchez, Roca – Vargas, Melendo – Wu, Ferreyra
Head Coach: David Gallego
Shevchenko – Mykhailichenko, Abu Hanna, Vernydub, Tymchyk – Silas, Ivanisenia – Khomchenovskyi, Yurchenko Khocherhin – Budkivskyi
Head Coach: Viktor Skripnik
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others contributes to Forbes.com and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently splits his time between Victoria, BC and Munich, Germany. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.