Espanyol v. Liverpool, pre-season friendly, August 2, 2009
Liverpool provide the high-profile opposition as Espanyol mark the long-awaited opening of their new stadium Estadi Cornella-El Prat on Sunday.
Having played their matches since the 1998-99 season at the soulless Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, the Catalan side hope this match will be a watershed moment in the recent history of the club.
When Espanyol looked like going down last season it appeared that all the hard work invested in the new ground would be wasted on the Segunda Division. Happily, the Catalans avoided the drop and accordingly expectation is high that the new stadium will become a mecca for football, particularly as the fans are now sitting much closer to the pitch.
If everything goes to plan and the Cornella-El Prat becomes the new “12th man” as is predicted then, coupled with the new signings made by the club this summer, Espanyol are well positioned to have a successful 2009-10 campaign.
British football fans will be familiar with two of Espanyol’s big signings this summer. After running Celtic’s midfield for four seasons, Shunsuke Nakamura should find it easy to adapt to Spanish football. The Japanese schemer failed to learn English whilst in Scotland but was brilliant on the pitch and La Liga should suit his style of play.
Former Chelsea striker Ben Sahar will also be looking to get his career back on track. The young Israeli scored goals whilst on loan at De Graafschap during the second half of last season and could well be hit if he gets a run of games at Espanyol.
Espanyol’s struggles last season came as a surprise as their is no shortage of talent at the club. From goalkeeper Carlos Kameni through veterans Ivan De La Pena and Raul Tamudo, Espanyol have always had some match-winners in their squad. And they have also added Uruguayan winger Ivan Alonso from Real Murcia to their ranks who could give Glen Johnson a real test in the friendly.
Liverpool should feel at home in Spain as the likes of Pepe Reina, Fernando Torres, and Albert Riera return home. It has been a mixed pre-season for the club after their second placed finish last season, whilst a number of players have agreed contract extensions, the departure of Arbeloa and the likely exit of Xabi Alonso have dominated the headlines this summer.
Steven Gerrard’s court case hardly helped matters off the pitch and Rafa Benitez will be happy to welcome his captain back after he missed the Asia tour. Their 5-0 win over Singapore was their first win of the pre-season and, if Alonso’s future is resolved by the weekend, then this will be a good chance for Liverpool to really put their foot down for the new season.
Even if Liverpool lose Alonso, another title challenge looks on the cards. The experience built up from last season should stand the Reds in good stead and they could be the main beneficiaries of United losing Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.
This game should be a real test with Espanyol likely to be gunning for their high profile opponents in the inaugural match at their new stadium and will likely give Rafa Benitez an indication of how his side will fare this season in tough away matches.
101gg predicts: Espanyol 2 – Liverpool 2 (14/1)
Full match odds here.