Unbeaten Espanyol leapfrogged Ludogorets to the summit of the Group H table with their 1-0 win in Bulgaria on Matchday 3.
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Espanyol leapfrogged Ludogorets to the summit of the Group H table with their 1-0 win in Bulgaria on Matchday 3, and the unbeaten Spanish side will be out to consolidate their position of strength in the Barcelona return.
• Espanyol shook off the disappointment of an opening 1-1 draw at home to Ferencváros by winning 2-0 next time out at CSKA Moskva and then – having changed coach, replacing David Gallego with Pablo Machín – 1-0 in Razgrad. A Claudiu Keşerü hat-trick completed a stunning 5-1 home win for Ludogorets against CSKA on Matchday 1, and there was a second big win a fortnight later as they prevailed 3-0 away to their UEFA Champions League first qualifying round conquerors Ferencváros before Espanyol stopped them in their tracks.
• The Matchday 3 encounter was Espanyol's first UEFA encounter with Bulgarian opposition.
• Ludogorets' home reverse against Espanyol means they have lost all five of their European fixtures against Spanish clubs, a 2013/14 UEFA Europa League round of 16 elimination by Valencia (0-3 h, 0-1 a) preceding two UEFA Champions League group stage defeats later that year by Real Madrid (1-2 h, 0-4 a).
• Espanyol finished seventh in the 2018/19 Spanish Liga, edging out Athletic Club on the head-to-head rule to book a return to the European stage for the first time since their appearance in the 2006/07 UEFA Cup final, which they lost on penalties to Sevilla after a 2-2 draw in Glasgow.
• The Barcelona-based club, who also lost the 1987/88 UEFA Cup final on spot kicks to Bayer Leverkusen, cruised through their first two qualifying ties this term, defeating Stjarnan 7-1 on aggregate and Luzern 6-0 over the two legs before overcoming Zorya Luhansk in the play-offs (3-1 h, 2-2 a).
• Espanyol had won ten successive European home games, scoring at least three goals in eight of them, until Ferencváros held them on Matchday 1, the Hungarian side becoming the first non-Spanish team to deny them victory in front of their own fans since Schalke in the third round of the 2005/06 UEFA Cup (0-3).
• Ludogorets' eighth consecutive Bulgarian league title earned them a place in this season's UEFA Champions League first qualifying round, where they were knocked out by Ferencváros, losing both legs (1-2 a, 2-3 h). They subsequently came through UEFA Europa League qualifiers against Valur, The New Saints and, in the play-offs, Maribor to reach the group stage of this competition for the third year in a row, and fourth time in all.
• The Razgrad club were successful in their first two UEFA Europa League group stage participations, reaching the round of 16 in 2013/14 and round of 32 in 2017/18, but failed to win any of their six games last season (D4 L2), finishing bottom of a group containing Bayer Leverkusen, Zürich and AEK Larnaca. They also competed in the 2016/17 round of 32, having finished third in their UEFA Champions League group.
• Having won their first four away fixtures in their debut UEFA Europa League participation, Ludogorets have been victorious in only two of the subsequent ten (D5 L3). The only European game they have lost outside Bulgaria in the last 12 months, however, is that 2-1 defeat at Ferencváros in July (W2 D3).
Links and trivia
• Espanyol goalkeeper Diego López played for Villarreal against Bulgarian side Levski Sofia in the 2009/10 UEFA Europa League group stage, winning both games and keeping two clean sheets (1-0 h, 2-0 a).
• Ludogorets' only goal against Spanish opposition was scored five years ago at home to Real Madrid by Marcelinho, who is still with the club.
• Espanyol are one of six clubs making their debut in the UEFA Europa League group stage this term. The others are LASK, Olexandriya, Wolfsberg, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Group H rivals Ferencváros.
• While Espanyol are currently in the Spanish Liga's relegation zone, placed 19th with eight points from 12 games, Ludogorets are on top of the Bulgarian league table, unbeaten after 15 matches with 12 wins and three draws.
• Machín was appointed by Espanyol as Gallego's replacement on 8 October, thus returning to Spanish Liga and UEFA Europa League duty seven months after being dismissed by Sevilla. He was in charge of the Andalusian side for less than a year following four progressive campaigns at the helm of Catalan outfit Girona, whom he guided into the Spanish top flight before further exceeding expectations by leading them to a tenth-placed Liga finish in 2017/18. Forced to retire from playing at 23, he had a lengthy association with home-town club Numancia before joining Girona in 2014.
• Aleksi Zhelyazkov was officially promoted from Ludogorets assistant coach to head coach at the end of October, effectively swapping positions with Stanislav Genchev. The 57-year-old from Burgas is predominantly known in his homeland as the right-hand man of former Bulgaria national team coach Dimitar Dimitrov. The pair started working together at Neftochimik Burgas in the mid-1990s, then for Litex Lovech, Bulgaria and Russian club Amkar Perm. He was later employed as an assistant to Ivaylo Petev, including one spell at Ludogorets, and in 2018 returned to the Razgrad club as chief scout.