Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 May 2019

Defeat to Real Madrid proves Espanyol continue to be Barcelona's 'marvellous minority'

Despite Barca's existence, city rivals Espanyol have no reason to not be bigger, better and better supported

Real Madrid, in red, once again proved superior to Espanyol this season. Quique Garcia / EPA
Real Madrid, in red, once again proved superior to Espanyol this season. Quique Garcia / EPA

There is a joke among Barcelona supporters at the start of the season that whatever happens, their arch-rivals Real Madrid can rely on six points from their neighbours Espanyol.

The second club of Barcelona cannily style themselves as a 'marvellous minority'. But bar a win a year ago, their recent form against Madrid is awful. In 2015/16 a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Madrid beat Espanyol 6-0 home and away.

Espanyol supporters point out that their historical record against Barca is similar, but why let facts get in the way of conspiracy theories?

The case against Espanyol was given credence, when, four minutes into their game at home to Madrid on Sunday night, they were a goal down and their central defence looked as stable as a house made of jelly with Luka Modric running through it.

Karim Benzema, a busy influence on the game, finished from a rebound as he would again as Madrid ran out 4-2 winners. It would have been more had it not been for the excellence of goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Modric was excellent throughout until he was taken off while another big name – big-game player Sergio Ramos – made it 2-0 after 15 minutes. He rose and arched his back, yet still got sufficient power onto a header to propel it across goal and into the net.

He left the field injured at half time – Ramos had played every minute of every league match this season up to that point. It was his 10th goal of the season, a remarkable feat for a defender. No Manchester United attacker has scored more goals than Ramos.

Madrid are still adjusting to life after Ronaldo. Brazilian forward Vinicius Junior is impressing in his first season as a first teamer, but he is 18. The former Flamengo player has the trickery that wows the crowds, but he can be caught in possession and be easy to go past. Espanyol’s first goal in the 24th minute from Leo Baptistao started when Vinicius was beaten on the wing.

Vinicius set up Benzema just before half time to make it 3-1. Gareth Bale made it 4-1 with his 99th Madrid goal after 67 minutes, hammering the ball past Diego Lopez as Madrid strolled ahead. Bale, making his first appearance in 25 days, had been on the pitch three minutes.

“Gareth has that – he scores goals,” manager Santiago Solari said. “A chance and he took it. We hope he picks up more competitive rhythm with games, but he has worked hard to get back."

Raphael Varane’s red card for a professional foul after 72 minutes gave Espanyol hope, which they exploited with a second goal, coming from Roberto Rosales with nine minutes left.

Madrid may have won a third consecutive league game but they are 10 points behind Barcelona with 17 games left. They need to finish in the top four in case they do not win the Uefa Champions League. But if they finish 10 points behind Barca and do not win the European Cup again, there will be serious discontent from fans fed on the best diet in recent years.

Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring against Espanyol. Josep Lago / AFP
Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring against Espanyol. Josep Lago / AFP

Espanyol? Same old every single season. They are lucky to be in existence.

They have a talented manager in Rubi, and their Chinese owners promise Champions League football by their third year. That did not look so fanciful when, after 11 games of this season they sat second in the Primera Liga table, an incredible position. Madrid were ninth.

Espanyol, of course, lost 1-0 to Real Madrid away in September. Then injuries hit their small squad – specifically to three central defenders Oscar Duarte, David Lopez and Naldo. They did not have sufficient players to cover for one, let alone three. League form fell apart.

Following the bi-annual defeat to Madrid, Espanyol have lost nine of their last 10 league games and tumbled to 15th, just above the relegation zone. Fans do not fear that they will sell star striker Borja Iglesias; they fully expect it.

Forward Borja Iglesias' long-term future at Espanyol is up in the air. Quique Garcia / EPA
Forward Borja Iglesias' long-term future at Espanyol is up in the air. Quique Garcia / EPA

Espanyol managed to keep Eric Bailly for only five games before selling him to Villarreal for €5 million (Dh21m). The Ivorian was sold on to Manchester United for €30m.

Espanyol do not always help themselves. Barcelona is a major tourist destination, many of them football fans. There would be interest in watching a game at their excellent stadium against the likes of Madrid, yet this writer met an English supporter recently who was asked to pay €70 each for himself and his seven-year-old daughter.

Barca are the elephant in Espanyol’s room, but Espanyol should be bigger, better and better supported. They have a superb stadium and a vocal hardcore, one that has been worn down by years of suffering.

It is tough being a marvellous minority.

Updated: January 28, 2019 08:45 AM

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