Season 17 got underway for Espanyol with a narrow defeat against one of the title favourites Juventus.
Going into the game the odds were highly stacked against the Spanish side, especially with James Rodriguez suspended. Juventus have strengthened further over the close season, with more superstars in Davies, Fernandes and Bastoni adding to what was already a star studded line up. The gulf in the two sides is massive, and on paper a heavy defeat for Espanyol looked the likely outcome.
Juventus took an early 12th minute lead when Sancho fed Bernardo Silva who finished clinically, it seemed at that point the flood gates would open. However not deterred, Espanyol kept to their own game plan as the game went from end to end and in the 61st minute, an expertly taken free kick from Saul Niguez found Morata who silenced the travelling support as he smashed home. On balance it was fully deserved in a game where Espanyol created no fewer than 11 shots on goal 4 of which were on target. Espanyol had a couple of chances of their own to win the game, but in the end suffered heartbreak as a lapse of concentration from a late freekick, saw Kimmich meet a Lukaku cross to fire in and take the three points back to Italy.
For Espanyol there was a lot of positives, they managed 44% of the possesion which against a much superior side, was a massive positive. Apart from creating a number of chances, they also forced 6 corners. New signing Morata, despite only playing 75 minutes was also named man of the match for his display, which pleased his manager.
“where are the goals going to come from was the big question for us going into the close season. Any team who loses the quality of Aguero is going to suffer. We tried very hard over to get a striker in, and it proved to be very difficult. Morata over the last 16 seasons has hit double figures just six times, whilst last season managed just 6 goals in 35 starts. On the face of it, stepping up a division with those sort of returns is a big gamble. However I always felt if we can get the right supply in the squad, then he’d have half a chance in bettering those figures. I think in Oyarzabal, Rodriguez and Niguez we have good creativity, and tonight saw Morata benefit from that. He’s off the mark on day 1, which is most pleasing. I said going into the game, this was a free hit match. Juventus should be coming here and taking the points, their advantage in squad ability is not open to debate, its there for everyone to see. That being said, we’ve given them a real game tonight, and they will know that. The record books though will show no points for us. We need to ensure we perform at those levels consistently for the whole season and we will be okay. We’ve got a core of 15 first team players, then we have 33 players, we are going to need some luck with. Many of these won’t be impacting our first team for 3 or 4 seasons, which keeps us very thin on the ground for strength in depth. We need to keep our big players fit and suspension free which will be a tall order over a 38 game season. You only need to look at Juventus’s bench tonight to see how big the task is here, and at other clubs like us. However, on the other side of the coin, their manager is now in his 17th season with Juventus and is still looking for his first title. He has had a long time to build that squad up. I’ve been here just half a season, and in that time had to totally start again due to having 17 players heading into their mid 30s. We are on a long journey, we are currently in the building the foundations stage. There is going to be many bumps on the way, with Aguero’s retirement a typical bump, which we’ve had to face, deal with it, and move on. 100 clubs and managers are competing strongly for any talent around the world, with lots of scouting and lots of gambles being made. Ready made talent comes at a premium price, and you dont always have that right asset to trade for it. We are taking the approach of finding some solid pro’s, but mixing it up with some rough diamonds. We’ve 33 rough diamonds right now, but if just 2 or 3 of them can be polished up to become big assets for this football club, then ultimately they become tradeable and we continue to evolve through strategic trading and finding the next rough diamond”