Could Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic replace Quique Sanchez Flores at Espanyol?

by Colin Millar / 20 December 2017, 14:31

Jonathan Viera - the local boy who has starred for Las Palmas since their final season in the second tier - stepped up to take the penalty. It was the sixth minute of injury time and it was the decisive kick of the match. Having been two goals down with ten minutes remaining at home to Espanyol, the islanders - rooted to the bottom of the standings - had the chance to snatch the most dramatic of three points. They were managerless and should the 28-year-old convert, their Catalan opponents would likely be too.

The penalty was weak and visiting goalkeeper Pau Lopez blocked the effort to rescue a point for Espanyol. Quique Sanchez Flores, watching on from the sidelines, breathed a deep sigh of relief. A week earlier, his side limped to a home defeat to Girona in the ‘other’ Catalan derby - their first loss in the fixture in 80 years.

They’ve now only won once in their last six league games which also included defeats to Eibar and Valencia and perhaps most damagingly of all, at lowly Alaves. They are still without a win against any of the sides in the relegation zone this season and since Flores’s appointment in the summer of 2016, they have won only once against a team in the top six - a home win over Sevilla in January.

The Catalans sit 16th in the standings, five points above the relegation zone and last week Flores received the dreaded vote of confidence from the club’s Chinese owners. Chen Yanseng was sworn in as the club’s owner in January 2016 but despite initial promises of investment there have been no major changes to the squad and last season’s 8th-placed finish felt like a massive overachievement with a limited pool of players.

There is a large amount of frustration with the team’s style of play too. Sanchez Flores has a reputation as a manager who prioritises organisation over attacking flair yet there is genuine concern this caution is too pronounced. Los Periquitos have failed to find the net in half of their 16 league matches this campaign, while only Alaves and Leganes have scored fewer goals than their 13 - comfortably below the rate of one per game.

Fans are voting with their feet and many matches at the RCDE Stadium are now played out to largely empty stands. The recent defeat at the hands of Girona saw a paltry 11,500 fans in attendance - 29,000 short of the stadium’s capacity. The fact that it was on a Monday night did not help and after the forthcoming Friday evening clash with Atletico Madrid, five of the club’s nine home matches to date will have been played on either a Monday or Friday. The Spanish authorities do not view Espanyol as a major club, and shift them more than any other to the free-to-air slots on national TV.

A report in El Mundo Deportivo this week stated the Catalans were sounding out possible replacements for Sanchez Flores, should results not improve quickly. The number one target, it was reported, is current Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic. The Serbian was appointed in London midway through the 2015-16 campaign and after comfortably achieving the immediate objective of avoiding relegation, he led his stylish side to a top six spot last season. The playoff defeat brought inevitable disappointment and during this campaign things have been tougher, with the Lilywhites currently sitting in 12th.

The 49-year-old can speak Spanish having enjoyed stints with Real Oviedo, Tenerife and Deportivo La Coruna as a player and he managed lower league Hercules, while Pako Ayestaran - former Valencia and Las Palmas boss - was his number two during a stint at Maccabi Tel Aviv. Oddly, like Sanchez Flores he briefly manager Watford in England too.

Jokanovic is renowned for playing a more progressive style of football that would perhaps be more warmly received at the club, although it’s unclear if the current squad would be suited to such a system. Espanyol have European ambitions and the current progress, or lack of it, towards such heights means that if results do not improve quickly, Sanchez Flores may become a free agent once more.

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