Berizzo under pressure after Bilbao winless run hits 7 games
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Seeing Barcelona at the top of the table in Spain comes as no surprise.
But not even the most optimistic Espanyol and Alaves fans — two teams expected to be midtable finishers at best — could have predicted their teams would be second and third, respectively, two months into the season.
Espanyol moved to within one point of defending champion and crosstown rival Barcelona after winning its first away match of the season on Sunday.
Espanyol and Alaves have 17 points. Sevilla and Atletico Madrid are two points behind Barcelona, and struggling Real Madrid is another two points back.
Striker Borja Iglesias scored both Espanyol goals to secure a comfortable 2-0 win at promoted Huesca.
Espanyol coach Joan “Rubi” Ferrer coached Huesca last year and helped earn its first-ever promotion to the top flight, before he then signed for Espanyol.
Besides new arrival Iglesias, Rubi has revitalized a squad that performed dismally last campaign under Quique Sanchez Flores.
Espanyol has won all four of its home matches but had yet to win away until its trip to Huesca.
“There is no euphoria … there is hard work and we are not going to let up,” Rubi said. “I am sure my players have their feet on the ground because they have seen that it takes five matches for us to win on the road. We are going to defend second place and attack those in front.”
Huesca was playing its first match under new coach Francisco Rodriguez, who replaced Leo Franco after he was fired after seven rounds without a win.
Also, Valladolid won 1-0 at Real Betis for a fourth straight victory, while Getafe beat Rayo Vallecano 2-1 and Athletic Bilbao drew 1-1 at Eibar.
Needing a goal-scorer after Gerard Moreno returned to Villarreal, Espanyol decided to spend big to bring in Iglesias after he scored 22 goals for Zaragoza in Spain’s second division last season.
Espanyol broke its transfer record by spending 10 million euros ($11.5 million) to acquire Iglesias from his rights-holder Celta Vigo.
The 25-year-old Iglesias has settled in as Rubi’s first-choice striker and scored four times.
Against Huesca, Iglesias tapped in a cross by Didac Vila after the left back was played clear by a nice pass from Sergio Garcia in the 41st. Iglesias chipped in a second goal in the 64th after Hernan Perez intercepted a pass and set up his striker on the break.
“More than being eager to score, he is eager to show that he is a good player in the first division,” Rubi said about Iglesias. “He has four goals in nine rounds and at that rate he can surpass expectations. So we will see if he wins over those who had doubts about him.”
Athletic Bilbao coach Eduardo Berizzo is under increasing pressure to turn things around for the Basque Country club after it drew at Eibar in a regional derby.
A former Celta and Sevilla manager, Berizzo took over Bilbao in the off-season. The Argentine got a win on his debut, but the team has yet to win in all seven matches since.
Bilbao, which has a game in hand, is just one spot above the relegation zone.