A Tough Task – Can Machin transform Espanyol’s Fortunes?

Espanyol vs Celta Vigo Match Preview & Prediction

La Liga’s second managerial casualty of the season was announced earlier this week and in truth it came as little surprise. Following a 2-0 defeat at Mallorca on Sunday, Espanyol parted company with David Gallego and instantly named former Girona and Sevilla boss Pablo Machin as his successor. He will take over a side that is languishing in 19th place in La Liga whilst trying to juggle a busy schedule that involves Europa League action.

Home Defeats cost Gallego his Job

It’s hard not to have some sympathy for David Gallego. Having spent the last six years coaching Espanyol’s youth and B teams, he had certainly done his apprenticeship at the RCDE Stadium but his tenure as senior boss has ultimately lasted just four months.

Those four months would have been tricky to negotiate for any incoming coach. Gallego was faced with the task of rebuilding a team following the key departures of centre-back Mario Hermoso and star striker Borja Iglesias, who scored 35% of Espanyol’s league goals last term. It was a task he had to face whilst battling through a series of Europa League qualifiers which ensured the Cornella-based side had to start their season in July.

To a limited extent, Gallego succeeded in steadying the ship after the bitter blow that was Rubi’s switch to Betis. Espanyol remain unbeaten in the Europa League after eight matches and are in good shape to reach the knockout stages, something which may prove as much a hindrance as a help to their battle to climb away from danger in La Liga. Just four days before his dismissal, Gallego had guided Espanyol to an impressive 2-0 away win against CSKA Moscow in that competition.

However the board clearly came to the conclusion that a dismal start in La Liga left them with no option but to make an early change. Any coach would come under pressure if their reign started with four straight home league defeats and an inexperienced boss, with no proven track record in senior football, is all the more easier to sack.

Sevilla, Granada, Real Sociedad and Real Valladolid have all already left the RCDE Stadium this season with maximum points. Espanyol scored just one goal across those games, conceding ten. That’s in complete contrast to last season when they started with five straight home league wins under Rubi.

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Pablo Machin – The Obvious Choice

Part of the problem for David Gallego and indeed a few other under-pressure bosses currently in La Liga, is just how many strong candidates are out of work. Having forged his coaching reputation in Catalonia with Girona, Machin was always likely to be high on the list of likely replacements for Espanyol. The likes of Abelardo and Quique Setien also remain unemployed and surely won’t have to wait long to get a chance to return to a top flight job.

Machin feels like a good fit for Espanyol and his appointment has been greeted with positivity by the club’s fanbase. He did a fantastic job with Girona, guiding the Catalan minnows to the top flight for the first time and keeping them there. His time at Sevilla was ended prematurely and some would say unfairly after the club’s defeat to Slavia Prague in the Europa League in March, a tie they had more than enough chances to win comfortably.

The Soria-born boss left the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan with a win ratio of over 50% with 97 goals scored in his 50 games at the helm. Sevilla were 6th at the time, the same position they would finish the season in and if anything, they regressed under caretaker boss Joaquín Caparrós, the man whose decision it was to sack Machin.

In summary, Machin’s reputation has not been severely dented by anything that happened in Seville. He’d have been a smart appointment for the majority of teams in La Liga and it feels like a bit of a coup that Espanyol have managed to secure his services given their current plight.

Do Espanyol have the personnel to play the Machin way?

One concern may be whether or not Espanyol have the personnel to utilise Pablo Machin’s preferred system which favours the use of wing-backs. At Sevilla, he used a 3-5-2 system with Sergio Escudero and Jesus Navas most commonly used in the wide roles. Prior to that with Girona, it was more of a 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 with Cristhian Stuani leading the line while Johan Mojica and Pablo Maffeo bombed up and down the flanks.

This time around, Machin has not had the luxury of a summer to gradually introduce his system nor has he been able to assemble a squad to suit his style of play. It’s debatable whether he really inherits one suited to it either but if Machin does opt to immediately switch to playing with wing-backs, he does have a few options.

How will Espanyol play under Pablo Machin?

Youngster Adria Pedrosa looks most capable of occupying the left wing-back role. He impressed towards the end of last season when first team opportunities started to come his way and he’s a more attack-minded player than Dídac Vilá who has been Espanyol’s regular left-back under Gallego. On the other flank, Sébastien Corchia looks the most natural fit although the Frenchman was loaned out by Pablo Machin’s Sevilla last season which would suggest he isn’t a huge admirer.

One positive for Espanyol is that they do still look quite strong in central midfield with Marc Roca, Sergi Darder and Victor Sanchez all good options. All three could play if Machin goes for a 3-5-2 system similar to the one he used at Sevilla. However he may also look to have Jonathan Calleri leading the line as the main target man with Matias Vargas and either Oscar Melendo or Wu Lei playing off him.

Either way, Espanyol may find themselves needing to have a busy January if they are serious about committing to a new style of play under their new boss and there should be funds to spend after a summer when player sales generated plenty of cash.

Spanish football writer
About Mark Sochon 1538 Articles
Mark is a freelance writer based in Madrid. He has also lived in Seville and Barcelona and has written extensively about Spanish football. His work has been published by the likes of Guardian Sport & World Soccer.

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