Bengaluru, December 6: Espanyol could crown an excellent start to the 2018-19 La Liga season so far with victory in the Catalan derby at the RCDE Stadium on Sunday (December 9).
The rivalry in the Catalan capital in recent months has been even sharper than usual with both Espanyol and Barcelona flying high around the top of the top of the table in what is shaping up to be one of the most exciting title races in decades.
Defending champions Barcelona were always expected to contend for the trophy they have won in seven of the last ten seasons, but Espanyol have surprised many observers with some superb results and performances under new coach Joan Francesc Ferrer, better known as RubÍ.
So, how have they got here?
2017-18 was a transitional season for Espanyol, with the team spending much of the campaign in the bottom half of La Liga. Some positive results late on under caretaker coach David Gallego leading to an 11th placed finish.
The summer saw a big squad shake-up by the club's Chinese owners, Rastar Managerial Group, with 10 new players arriving and eight departing. Appointed to the bench was Barcelona-born Rubi, who had previously worked at Real Valladolid, Girona and Levante before last season guiding Huesca to a first-ever promotion from Segunda Division in stunning fashion.
Rubi's new-look Periquitos side hit the ground running, with just two defeats in their first 11 La Liga games. They have also been playing with a lot of style and panache, with their progressive coach favouring in a 4-3-3 shape solid at the back, flexible in midfield and exciting in attack.
Stand-out results included the 2-0 home victory over Valencia and 3-1 defeat of Villarreal in front of their own fans.
Caught the eye
Striker Borja Iglesias has certainly caught the eye, with eight goals in his first 13 La Liga appearances. Already 25 but in his first season in the top flight, Galicia-born Iglesias regularly found the net in the lower divisions, first for Celta Vigo's B team and then a prolific 23 in 43 games when on loan at Real Zaragoza in Segunda Division last season.
An old-fashioned goal scorer with a laid-back attitude, the 25-year-old is known as 'Panda' from his liking for the 2015 trap tune by Desiigner.
At the other end of the pitch, defender Mario Hermoso has impressed so much that he earned a first senior Spain cap in November's 1-0 friendly win against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Hermoso, 23, came through the ranks at Real Madrid's youth system, spending the 2015/16 season on loan in Segunda Division with Valladolid, and then joining Espanyol in the summer of 2017.
Quick to anticipate danger and good in possession, left-footer Hermoso also added important goals for Espanyol in early season games against Celta and Eibar.
A fine record at the RCDE Stadium has been particularly important for Rubi's side, who won each of their first five LaLiga home games before slipping to a 1-3 defeat in another Catalan derby against Girona last weekend.
Espanyol fans are now really looking forward to their next trip to the stadium. It's been 11 years since los pericos won a Barcelona city derby in front of their own fans. Given their excellent form so far, this could be the weekend that Rubi's side get that long-awaited win over their neighbours.
Espanyol vs Barcelona at RCDE Stadium
Sunday, December 9, 1.15 am IST
Live on Sony Network