REAL Mallorca hope to today end a week of turmoil over striker Samuel Eto'o with victory against Espanyol to start the New Year with a bang.
Mallorca's coach Luis Aragones yesterday picked the Cameroon international for the game despite demands from the Cameroon Football Federation that the striker be released by the club to play in a pre-olympic tournament in the Ivory Coast. Aragones, tired of Eto'ogate and more concerned about the three points at stake today, has asked his players to make a major effort to start the year with a win something Mallorca has yet to achieve since its return to the top flight. Espanyol equally have every intention of starting the New Year with a bang.
The last 12 months have been awful for Espanyol, and Luis Fernandez's side find themselves rooted to the bottom of La Liga. In the circumstances, the hosts could be forgiven for shutting up shop and resigning themselves to relegation, but recent events at Espanyol suggest a very different dynamic is at work inside the club. A clear sign of this never-say-die outlook was provided by Espanyol in their final game of 2003. Most sides would readily throw in the towel before a trip to Deportivo, but not the plucky strugglers, who had the audacity to take the lead at the Riazor before going down to a narrow 2-1 defeat. Things would have been very different for Espanyol save for a brilliant performance by Depor keeper Molina and an unfortunate own goal late on in the match. Not many teams create that sort of trouble at the Riazor, and a repeat performance on their own patch against Mallorca could reap dividends this time out for Fernandez and co. News the club are making some significant personnel changes in an attempt to avoid the drop should also boost morale in readiness for the task ahead.
Mauricio Pochettino returns to Espanyol from Bordeaux on loan for six months, and is reunited with his old boss in an attempt to shore up the worst defence in the top flight. Bassila could be on his way to join Pochettino from Strasbourg, and Espanyol have also been linked with Kily Gonzalez. None of these developments suggest Fernandez is going down without a fight, and Mallorca may be in for a battle today, they have only beaten Espanyol three times away from home, but the last time was with Aragones in charge. They have been playing well enough of late, and were a little unlucky not to have something more to show from a 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid last time out and will settle for nothing less than a victory today.
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