x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Espanyol in the battle for survival

Much of Catalonia's attention this weekend will be on Barca's game at Almeria. However, fans in the blue and white quarter of Barcelona will be focused on events closer to home.

Much of Catalonia's attention on Sunday night will be on Barca's game at Almeria. However, fans in the blue and white quarter of Barcelona will be focused on events closer to home. Bottom of the table Espanyol entertain 17th placed Mallorca at the Olympic Stadium in a vital match. If they lose against the in-form islanders, who've won three of their last four games, Espanyol will be 10 points from safety.

"It's not just another game," said Espanyol's Argentine coach Mauricio Pochetti. "It's vital for our survival hopes and we've been preparing for this game since I arrived. We can't talk about our anxiety, nerves or whatever has caused our form; we've got to focus on Mallorca." Uefa Cup finalists as recently as 2006, Espanyol lost 3-0 at Mallorca in October and have won just four of their 26 league games all season - and two of those victories were their opening matches in November.

Dire in front of goal, no Espanyol player has scored more than three times this term. And yet the Blanquiazul recently travelled across the city to beat the league leaders Barcelona. Relegation could not come at a worse time for Espanyol, who are scheduled to move into a superb new 40,000-seater stadium on the outskirts of Barcelona in August. They have the potential to fill their new home and attract more than 30,000 against the biggest teams. Crowds have fallen to half of that against Spain's lesser sides though and second division football would be an embarrassment to their new home.

But first Mallorca. The Espanyol focused media have been asking pertinent questions. "Is it time to complain or back the team?" asked the club's website. Downbeat players have appealed for support. Victory could garner a revival. Defeat will spell disaster. amitten@thenational.ae