It’s natural, when seeing a new coach come in to a doomed club and turn things around, to credit his organisational skills. That’s certainly the temptation with Javier Aguirre, who has arrived armed with a reputation for motivation and immediately made Espanyol hard to beat. However, there comes a point when to pull away from danger you have to kick on from there and develop a threat at the other side. There are clear signs that the Mexican master of the survival bid is now doing exactly that.
This past weekend’s victory over Levante wasn’t a total surprise. After all, the Valencian club’s form has dipped significantly of late, while Espanyol are stringing a run of wins together at home. However, the way the home side opened up Levante’s famously stingy defence was interesting and promising for Los Periquitos. Admittedly, Sergio Ballesteros was absent from the heart of the visitor’s back four, but it was the introduction of Stuani at the break which really sparked something interesting.
Sergio Garcia has worked away admirably up front all season, but to expect him to lead the line isn’t a long term viable option, you’d think. He’s more suited to playing int he line behind the spearhead up front rather than being an out-and-out striker. He’s had his moments, most notably at the Bernabeu, but you really can’t expect him to score the goals to fuel a run of wins, and with Raphael Longo looking like exactly what he is – a gifted but raw striker, capable of moments of excellence but a long way from producing them consistently – Aguirre needs a more reliable option up front. In Stuani, he seems to have found him.
Stuani made a great impact in the Levante game, giving Espanyol the lead and then providing the assist for Garcia’s emotional goal. He might have only managed three this season so far, but each has come in a win, so he’s clearly scoring at key moments, and his contribution goes beyond hitting the net. While he might not relieve the scoring burden from Garcia, he does lessen the strain in other ways. He appears to be in the same wavelength as Garcia, their movement is complementary, and in that second half they were a threatening partnership.
Aguirre has sorted their defence and might have found the combination Espanyol needs up front. Soon he might be forced to consider the next step, something he never managed in his last Spanish job at Zaragoza: how to turn a side which has been set up to survive into one which can kick on to greater achievements.