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Hinchas y Jugadores - Espanyol with Tom Canton (9th May, 2017)

Tom Canton is an aspiring football journalist with a love for Spanish and Austrian football. His diehard support of Arsenal, in addition to following Austrian double winners Red Bull Salzburg and Catalan underdogs Espanyol, has led him into the blogging and podcasting world. When he is not contributing to FutbolPulse and Outside of the Boot, you can find his Kentish charm on his YouTube channel hosting The Gooner Talk - an Arsenal focused channel reviewing each individual match win, lose or draw.

Check out the The Gooner Talk YouTube Channel here, his Outside of the Boot profile here, his FutbolPulse Profile here and follow him on Twitter here.

How long have you been a fan of Espanyol and what made you support them in the first place?

I have been following Espanyol for around 3 seasons now. My love for Spanish football has grown exponentially over the last half decade and when it came to deciding which side I would look to follow in a more fan-like fashion, I decided on Espanyol due to my ‘love of the underdog’ nature. Being completed overshadowed by city rivals Barcelona it was only natural to take an interest in the boys in blue and white.

Given the transfer windows and the squad that was assembled at the start of the season, is Espanyol where you want it to be?

Is it where I thought they would be at the start of the season? No. However, considering the start they made, am I happy now? Most definitely. I would have hoped that with the financial outlay made in the summer by Espanyol that the team would have made a better push to fight for a Europa League spot. They currently sit 9th in the table, 4 points off Eibar, and a huge 14 off 6th placed Athletic Bilbao with 3 games to play.

Of the signings made this season, which one worked out the best/had the most impact and why?

Pablo Piatti joined Espanyol from the devolving Valencia in the summer on a season-long-loan deal. The Argentine had often struggled for a starting spot at the Mestalla but slotted in perfectly under former Watford manager Quique Sánchez Flores. In 28 league appearances, the 5’4 wide man has scored 10 goals and chipped in with 10 assists; showing the form of a top La Liga player.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Espanyol this season? Any standout players?

The strengths have certainly been a much better defensive performance. The Catalan side conceded a gargantuan 74 goals last season and this year have so far let in just 48. A huge improvement, even with Flores playing some odd combinations in defense; such as midfielder David López being deployed at center back. On the other front, goals are still a problem for Espanyol and even with the likes of Piatti and Gerard Moreno both scoring 10+ goals this season, once again they have so far failed to breach the 50-goal barrier with 3 games remaining - a feet achieved by all the teams above them and even two sides below them. Besides Piatti and the aforementioned Gerard Moreno, other standout players have included goal keeper David López, on loan from AC Milan, and the breakthrough of 20-year-old left back Aarón Caricol.

List some things you appreciate and some things you can’t stand about the club management.

Flores came in with high hopes for the club after doing well in The Premier League, however, the chop and changing of the squad throughout the season, to find the best system, became quite frustrating - especially defensively. I mentioned previously that David López, a very good deep-lying midfielder, was being played at center-back with mixed results. Offensively, new signing José Antonio Reyes couldn’t seem to master a preferred side, he was played right wing predominantly but popped up starting on the left and even some games as the central attacking midfielder. I have appreciated the focus on allowing Espanyol’s youth players chances to flourish instead of the typical acquisition of youngsters from other clubs on loan; such as the mercurial Marco Asensio during the 2015/16 season.

What has the mood among the fans been during the campaign? Do you generally agree/disagree with them?

Being an Arsenal fan means that ‘fan backlash’ of any kind is often subdued compared to The Gunner’s ways. However, the fans of Espanyol have been treated to much more secure season than in recent years overall. Whilst admittedly a shaky start did unnerve the fans, the second half of the season was much more fortuitous and the supporters have been able enjoy the closing rounds of the 2016/17 season; I believe they cannot be too displeased come the season’s conclusion. Next season though, expectations will be higher and a similar start to this season may be met with an enhanced ‘backlash’ from fans.

Are there any talented youngsters at the club that you expect to have a big future?

It appears that finally instead of bringing in younger talent on loan from larger clubs to allow them to blossom, it is the turn of Espanyol themselves to breed the youth. I have mentioned already Caricol’s involvement in the side, 21-year-old Marc Navarro has also been used by the senior team and, although suffering an injury, chipped in with 2 goals and two assists in just 9 La Liga appearances from right back. Further notation should be given to 20-year-old midfielder Marc Roca and to a lesser extent 19-year-old center-mid Óscar Melendo. If the pair can survive a possible summer influx of senior talent, they could look to enjoy another good year.

If you could make one realistic signing for Espanyol this summer who would it be?

Espanyol spent very well last season, averaging ~£1 million per player on 12 arrivals (including loans). With the Chinese owners looking to take Espanyol to the next level, stating in January 2016 they would ‘like Espanyol to be competing in the Champions League within three years,’ significant investment would be needed. On that basis, fees for players should look to be around £10-20 million for a marquee signing. I would look for Espanyol to take a punt on a player such as Suso from AC Milan. It may be tough, but AC Milan will be looking to bring in high quality players this summer with their own Chinese investment which could make the versatile attacking midfielder/winger become available.

Finally, predicted finish for Espanyol?

Next season? I would say they should make a much better press at competing for the Europa league places if they invest correctly in the summer. Now that the defense is much more secure the focus will be on maintaining that and adding more goals throughout the starting squad. I pray that Flores finds his desired starting eleven. I’ll predict 7th and hopefully fortune favors us and we sneak into Europe.

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