Espanyol welcome Villarreal to the RCDE Stadium on Wednesday, with both sides desperate for three precious points at both ends of the table.
While the hosts could do with a victory to pull away from the relegation scrap, the visitors are looking to avoid a fourth straight defeat as they try to keep in touch with the European race.
When promising young coach Diego Martinez was hired as Espanyol boss in the summer, many in Spain were envisioning a similar impact to the one that he had at Granada, where the 41-year-old inspired promotion to LaLiga and a Europa League run in the space of three seasons.
After a tough start to the season, however, as Los Pericos lost last season’s top scorer Raul de Tomas before winning just one of their opening six games, things look to be settling down for the Catalan side, as the coach’s ideas begin to filter through.
With just one defeat in their last seven games, including last weekend’s impressive 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid, a previously shaky defensive spine is beginning to look more solid by the week.
Despite a red card in the 28th minute for Leandro Cabrera, Martinez’s men still managed to take the lead at the Civitas Metropolitano, as Joselu won a towering header at the back post to tee up Sergi Darder for an acrobatic finish.
The former Stoke City striker has seven goals so far this campaign, having scored in four of his six appearances at the RCDE stadium for his new club, and will be looking to add to his collection against a Villarreal side lacking in confidence of late.
Incredibly, there were already chants of ‘Quique veta ya’ at the Ciutat de Valencia on Sunday, as a portion of Villarreal fans asked for Quique Setien’s resignation during his first home game in charge of the club.
The former Barcelona head coach has overseen four games in charge of the Yellow Submarine, drawing one and losing the three, including a dire 2-0 home defeat to Mallorca on the weekend.
Even with 71% of the ball, the club from Castellon were not incisive with their possession, as they only generated 0.43 expected goals, a week after they managed a disappointingly low figure of 0.22 against Athletic Bilbao.
Two consecutive league defeats has left Villarreal six points off the top four, so a win here is vital not only for confidence in the new coach, but to ensure that they stay in touch with the European race before the World Cup break.
Espanyol La Liga form:
Villarreal La Liga form:
Villarreal form (all competitions):
We say: Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal
Villarreal have been disappointing under Quique Setien so far, and will be under pressure to perform here.
Espanyol are building a good unbeaten run, however, and showed real resolve to salvage a point last weekend at Atletico Madrid, so we expect them to pose another stern challenge for the Yellow Submarine.