Madrid, Jan 3 (IANS) Abelardo Fernandez makes his debut as Espanyol coach as his new side entertain La Liga leaders FC Barcelona in Cornella on Saturday. The Barcelona derby comes with Espanyol bottom of the table after a 2-0 defeat away to Leganes that cost Pablo Machin his job just before Christmas.
Abelardo is Espanyol’s third coach of the season, suggesting that the problems at the club run deeper than the man in the dugout, and the former Barcelona defender could hardly have had a tougher debut. However, he will no doubt gain confidence from the job he did at his previous club Alaves, reports Xinhua news agency.
Abelardo took over at Alaves two years ago in similar circumstances, with the side from Vitoria looking doomed to relegation at the midway point of the campaign, only for him to help inspire a turnaround which saw them not only climb to safety but challenge for Europe in his second season in charge.
China’s Wu Lei is likely to start and Espanyol will be boosted by the return of Matias Vargas in attack, although they will be without the combative Victor Sanchez and winger Pablo Piatti.
Abelardo’s opposite number Ernesto Valverde knows all about Espanyol, having spent time at the club as both player and coach, but he will have his sights set on ensuring that Barca reach the halfway point of the season with at least a two-point advantage over Real Madrid at the top of the table.
Barca ended 2019 with a 4-1 win at home to Alaves, but have lost the services of Marc-Andre ter Stegen with a knee injury, meaning former Valencia keeper Neto is almost certain to make his first-team debut.
It will be Barca’s last game before they fly to Saudi Arabia to contest the Spanish Supercup alongside Valencia, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.