Quality begins to emerge from Espanyol' football
Win at Sevilla confirms team's European aspirations
J. BADCOCK / R. TRAIN - Madrid - 18/01/2011Espanyol is showing signs of believing it can enter the elite echelons of La Liga , with European qualification now a firm objective for the second half of the season. Mauricio Pochettino's rugged team ended the first half of the campaign on a new high thanks to an authoritative 1-2 win on the road at Sevilla on Saturday.
Having effectively neutralized a Sevilla strike force in which a fit duo of Frédéric Kanouté and Luis Fabiano promised a great deal early on, the Catalan side's Javi Márquez spotted José María Callejón's run on 40 minutes. The Real Madrid youth product poked home the high-bouncing pass with aplomb. Midway through the second half, Callejón again found himself alone in front of goal after a quickly taken free kick. Callejón signaled skyward after his goals in tribute to ex-club captain Dani Jarque, who died of a heart attack in 2009.
Sevilla sub Álvaro Negredo scored a fine goal in added time to confirm his impressive form and let his club management know he is eminently capable of taking over from Luis Fabiano full-time should the always-unsettled Brazilian move on soon.
Pochettino has made defensive solidity the rock of a team that was fighting relegation in his first two seasons at the club, and the Argentinean coach was happy with the way his players "got the game under control" after a difficult opening period. With the emergence of Joan Verdú as an outstanding playmaker, fifth-place Espanyol can now aspire to something more. Villarreal, meanwhile, stayed in third with a 4-2 home win over Osasuna that featured a fine goal from the halfway line by Cani. Ahead in second, Real Madrid was held 1-1 at Almería, with leader BarcelonatrouncingMálaga 4-1 at Camp Nou in response.
Valencia 2-0 Depor; Sporting 2-0 Hércules; Zaragoza 1-0 Levante; Getafe 0-4 Sociedad; Athletic 2-1 Racing.
Barça crowned winter champion
With La Liga at the halfway stage, and Barcelona comfortably proclaimed Spain's "winter champion," the omens bode well for Pep Guardiola's side to retain its title: in each of the past two seasons Barcelona has been winter champion and, more importantly, summer champion as well.
Beaten just once this term, in a second matchday ambush laid by newly promoted Hércules, Barça has since racked up 28 games without tasting defeat, a club record. Guardiola has also masterminded the smashing of his own record for points won in the first half of the season with 52 from 19 games. In addition, Barça has racked up a not-inconsiderable goal difference of plus 50, 20 ahead of Real Madrid, which is the deciding criteria in the league after head-to-head results. If Real wins April's clásico 5-0 at the Bernabéu, it will still need to bang in a huge raft of goals and shore up its defense, which has conceded six more than Barça's, and depend on the rest of the division to take at least a point from Guardiola's team to win the Liga crown.
All of which is of supreme indifference to the "league of 18," which has long since given up on catching the top two. Atlético Madrid, which harbors European dreams, recorded a 3-0 win over struggling Mallorca on Monday to regain sixth place. The Champions League, though, is still seven points away, with Valencia and Villarreal in pole position.
Little wonder then that under-fire coach Quique Sánchez Flores has promised to have a decent crack at Real in the King's Cup on Thursday. Atlético trails 1-3 from the first leg at the Bernabéu.
Quality begins to emerge from Espanyol's industry · ELPAÍS.com in English