La Liga Preview: Espanyol 2007-08

July 31, 2007

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Last season was the best time to be an Espanyol fan; not only did neighbours Barcelona struggled and came up empty-handed, their own team performed admirably, securing their league status quite comfortably and even made it to the final of the UEFA Cup for the first time since 1988. 

Even if they lost to Seville, it was through the lottery of the penalty shootout and Espanyol have nothing to be ashamed of, having given their all. So it will come as no surprise to know that Espanyol has kept the entire team largely intact and have made some astute signings that should bring the club to an even higher level.  

Espanyol has managed to hang onto the talisman of the side, keeping both goalkeeper Carlos Kameni and team captain and fans idol Raul Tamudo. The fact that both rejected overtures from other bigger clubs and stayed with Espanyol is a clear indication that the side the coach Ernesto Valverde is building is on the ascendancy. 

Kameni was one of the most impressive goalkeepers in the whole of Spain last year with his agility and shot-stopping abilities catching the eye of many big clubs including Manchester United. As long as he is around, he should be one of the first names put down by Valverde. 

The only new face joining the backline will be Argentine right back Clemente Rodriguez and his attacking sensibility will add a new dimension to the Espanyol team that can call upon players like Daniel Jarque and Moises Hurtado – no nonsense, take-no-prisoners types. 

Talk to any Espanyol fan and they will tell you that the best Raul in Spain actually plays for their home team and not Real Madrid and at times it was hard to dispute that view. Skilful, deadly and yet a total team player, Raul Tamudo was Mr. Captain Extraordinaire – an inspiration to both fans and teammates. Expect him to maintain his standard coming into this new season that promises much for Espanyol. 

If there is a reason for Tamudo’s resurgence, it can be traced to the play of Ivan de la Pena or better known as ‘Little Buddha’. De la Pena emerged from Barcelona’s youth team as Spain’s most promising and talented playmaker, but despite his obvious potential, he flirted between excellent and anonymous performances and was discarded to the Italian outpost of Lazio.

His struggles there continued (and at his next club Marseille) and it was not until he returned to his spiritual homeland of Catalonia that De la Pena regained his form. Re-born and rejuvenated, De la Pena grew into his role and today, he is the heartbeat of this Espanyol side who relies on him for instigating and creating chances. 

His usual partners in crime last season were Albert Rivera and Francisco Rufete, who also rediscovered his second wind after being discarded by Valencia. With Valdo now in the mix, having joined the Catalans from Osasuna, there will be more support for De la Pena and the Brazilian will help to fill in the creative role in case of his absence. 

Another excellent signing for Espanyol is the capture of the Serbian U-21 international Milan Smiljanic who slots in immediately in the defensive midfield role. Not only does he win the ball, but he also knows how to use it intelligently and at 3million euros he is a real bargain. 

Rounding off the team is the excellent Luis Garcia who is another fan-favorite. Able to play on either flank, Garcia is often asked to support Tamudo in attack and in fact, the pairing plundered 25 goals together – a total that is second only to Valencia’s David Villa and Fernando Morientes. 

With a settled team and with the injection of more quality, the sky is the limit for a club that traditionally has been in the shadows of the giant figure that is Barcelona. While they may lack the glamour and resources of their neighbour, Espanyol can expect to compete on equal terms on the field.   

Possible Espanyol First XI: Kameni; J. Garcia, Jarque, Hurtado, D. Garcia; Valdo, De La Pena, Smiljanic, Rufete; Raul Tamudo, L. Garcia

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