China's Wu Lei proves worth as stunning revival continues for resurgent Espanyol
Updated 14:05, 09-Mar-2019
Hu Zhicheng

By the time Wu Lei's inviting knockdown impeccably fell into the path of Facundo Ferreyra it was almost implausible to realize the effortless and smoothness with which the boyish Chinese sensation has integrated into the cutthroat world of the top-tier Spanish league.

Ferreyra, who joined Espanyol along with Wu in the winter transfer window, gratefully accepted the gift-wrapped chance to score his first goal for the club after unleashing a rasping drive beyond Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Iago Herrerin to break the stalemate. 

Though a late Raul Garcia header denied Espanyol all three points on Friday night at the San Mames, the new-found optimism which had surrounded the club was as vibrant as could be hoped. 

China's Wu Lei sparks during Espanyol's La Liga clash with Espanyol at the San Mames on March 8, 2019. /VCG Photo

China's Wu Lei sparks during Espanyol's La Liga clash with Espanyol at the San Mames on March 8, 2019. /VCG Photo

An upturn in the club's fortune coincided with Wu's arrival. Espanyol are yet to taste defeat since the former Shanghai SIPG talisman swapped Chinese Super League for La Liga, securing two wins and four draws in their last six outings after a poor run of nine defeats in ten.

The dramatic turnaround has seen Espanyol skyrocket to 10th, with Rubi's side having turned themselves from the potential relegation candidates into serious contenders for the Europa League qualification spots. 

Espanyol's transformation has proven how much of a deadly goal-scoring threat could Wu pose to defenders under the right tactical guise, with the Chinese striker scoring once, setting up a brilliant goal and creating openings with a well-deserved penalty during the 6-game unbeaten run.

Wu Lei continues his red-hot form since joining from Shanghai SIPG. /VCG Photo

Wu Lei continues his red-hot form since joining from Shanghai SIPG. /VCG Photo

Wu's explosive pace, excellent movement, and positional sense are his greatest strengths and his contribution to Espanyol's first goal against Bilbao showcased all of it. 

Less than 10 minutes into the game, Esteban Granero received the ball upfield and looked to thread a killer pass. With the defenders being distracted by the former Real Madrid veteran and all out of sorts, Wu seized the chance to sprint across the pitch and slipped through the middle of a gaping hole in the defensive line. 

Picking out Wu's penetrating running off the ball, Granero delivered a gorgeous chip to the center of the box where Wu nodded the ball into the onrushing Ferreyra to slot home. The Bilbao defenders didn't realize Wu was the real danger in this move until it was too late. 

Wu failed to put added gloss on an already polished performance after he wasted a decent opportunity late on, but there was no disguising Rubi's satisfaction when the Espanyol coach hailed the impact of the 27-year-old new boy.

Wu Lei's unnerved display during the game against Athletic Bilbao draws praise from Espanyol coach Rubi. /VCG Photo

Wu Lei's unnerved display during the game against Athletic Bilbao draws praise from Espanyol coach Rubi. /VCG Photo

"Wu Lei is a great player and his quality remains unchanged though he didn't play the last 30 minutes," observed Rubi, who sent on Javi Puado for Wu on the hour mark.

"Losing two points makes me sad, especially considering all the efforts my players have put into this game," he added. "But Athletic also have good players, so I wanna give huge credit to my team who had coped well with the pressure." 

"We have passed a test of tremendous character and maturity. "