Season preview: Espanyol

Season preview: Espanyol
© PA Photos
Sports Mole discusses whether Espanyol can secure a top-half finish in the new La Liga campaign.

When Javier Aguirre took charge of Espanyol in November 2012, the club were languishing in the bottom three of La Liga.

The experienced Mexican performed miracles in the second part of the campaign, however, with the 54-year-old leading them to a comfortable 13th-place finish.

Here, Sports Mole assesses whether Aguirre can lead his side into the top half of the table in the new campaign.

In: David Lopez (Huesca), Manuel Lanzarote (Sabadell), Juan Rafael Fuentes (Cordoba), Abraham Gonzalez (Alcorcon), Pizzi (Benfica – Loan), Sidnei (Benfica – Loan)

Out: Juan Forlin (Al-Rayyan), Jordi Amat (Swansea City), Martin Petrov (Released), Joan Verdu (Real Betis), Raul Baena (Rayo Vallecano), Christian Alvarez (San Lorenzo)

Last season: 13th

Manager: Javier Aguirre

Three key players:

Atletico de Madrid's Pizzi controls the ball during a Europa League match against Besiktas on March 8, 2012© AP Photos
Pizzi: The 23-year-old spent last season on loan at Deportivo La Coruna from Atletico Madrid, but he was unable to keep them in the division despite finding the back of the net on eight occasions in the league. He proved that he can operate at that level, however, which prompted Espanyol into securing his services for the new season. Although this time they had to do their business with Benfica, who signed the striker on a six-year deal this summer. Pizzi is also a full international, scoring once on his only appearance for his country to date. It would be fair to say that Espanyol have plenty of workhorses in their side, but capturing a genuine goalscorer for the new season could be one of the best pieces of business this summer.

Espanyol's Sergio Garcia in action on January 30, 2011© AP Photos
Sergio García: If you were making a list of the most under-rated strikers in Spain, then Garcia would certainly be in the final draft. The 30-year-old was arguably Espanyol's star performer in the second part of last season, with his pure work-rate rubbing off on those around him. The striker is never going to be a prolific scorer, although he did find the back of the net seven times in 27 league games last season. However, if you are looking for someone to run the channels and not give defenders a moment to think, then Garcia is that player. He began his career with Barcelona, but managed just four first-team appearances before moving on. He has since played for Real Zaragoza and Real Betis, but he has now found a home with Espanyol, who he will captain in the new season.

Ghana's Mubarak Wakaso (hidden) is congratulated on his goal against Mali by Kwadwo Asamoah on January 24, 2013© AP Photos
Wakaso Mubarak: In truth, Mubarak is not the most consistent performer that you will find in Spain's top flight. That said, his pure unpredictability can produce moments of brilliance, which were seen at times last season. The Ghanaian, who has scored an impressive seven goals in 11 games for his country, joined Espanyol from Villarreal last summer. He made 26 league appearances last season, scoring three times in the process. At the age of 23, he can be forgiven for making incorrect decisions from time to time, but there were moments last season when he was simply unplayable. In terms of a winger, he has everything that you could possibly want to succeed. If he can improve his decision making, he could certainly be one of the stars of the season.

First game: Celta Vigo (A) Aug 19

Sports Mole says: After such a torrid start to the previous campaign, it would not have been a surprise to see the club relegated to the second tier. Aguirre had other ideas, however, with the Mexican galvanising the squad during the second part of the season, eventually leading them to a comfortable mid-table finish. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the loss of Joan Verdu, who was undoubtedly their most talented player. However, Aguirre has purchased well with the signings of Pizzi and centre-back Sidnei, who also arrived on loan from Benfica. Outside the top four, Espanyol had one of the strongest defences in the division last season. If that organisation remains and they find some goals down the other end, then it could be a successful campaign for the club.

Predicted finish: 12th

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