Tuesday, January 15, 2008
La Liga half-term report: Part 2
Coming in from the cold?
Erm, probably not. Valencia's wretched form continues, and the wonder of it is that they still lie seventh, in grasping distance of Europe if only they could get their season on-line. With lawsuits flying around the club like hospital superbugs, the atmosphere is hardly one of peace and harmony, and Koeman seems to have upset just about everyone apart from himself.
The return of Baraja is good news, but where is the next win coming from? Next week at home to Villarreal is hardly an easy fixture, but a restoration of self-belief is the first thing on the menu. If they can get that back, they might arrest the slide. If not, they're looking at mid-table for the first time since 1996.
Ready for a recovery?
Much more likely. Despite the weekend's set-back at Bilbao, most observers see Sevilla climbing up through the table in the 2nd half of the season and continuing where they left off for the last few campaigns. Too many upheavals at the same time have had an inevitable effect, but the squad is still strong and the will to win seems as fervent as ever. Fenerbahce shouldn't cause them too many nightmares in the next round of the Champions. Watch them climb and watch them do ok in Europe too.
Chasing the pack or packing in the chase?
Valladolid must be pretty chuffed to be inside the top ten for their half-term report. Then again, their utter dominance of Segunda 'A' last season rather suggested that they would do ok for themselves, once they'd settled down. In José Luis Mendilibar, they have one of La Liga's brightest managerial prospects, fully recovered now from the scandalous lack of confidence shown in him by Athletic Bilbao two years ago. Europe might be behind them, but they'll certainly stay up. There's something resonant about Valladolid, and something attractive about their ground and their weird colours. The top flight seems more complete with their presence, if only because it feels really good to make 'Vall-a-do-lid' roll off your tongue. I never tire of it.
Neither hell nor heaven
Almería tried to give Valladolid a run for their money last season in the Second Division, but ended up below them - a lot further in terms of points than now. Also inspired by a bright young Basque manager (Unai Emery) they have done just fine in their first adventure in the top flight, using a mixture of experienced heads and young pretenders. The second half of the season is difficult to predict, but there seem to be plenty of sides more likely to go down. Their main problem is a lack of goals, despite Diego Negredo's efforts - but they've been solid enough at the back, like last year.
Well that's how it might look in the trenches for Athletic Bilbao, but only two points separate them from the comfy-looking position of 11th and the barbed-wire relegation position that their cousins Osasuna presently occupy. The win over Sevilla should give them confidence, since their home record has again been poor, but doubts remain as to the depth of the young squad. Manager Joaquín Caparros has given them the aggression that he normally supplies to his teams, and last season's defensive jitters seem to have been calmed by new keeper Iraizoz, but they still find goals hard to come by. Expect a struggle. Eleventh flatters them somewhat, although they can hardly be accused of not trying. Expect them to fall, but they should have enough spirit to escape the drop again.
Everything seemed to go right for Zaragoza last season, culminating in a top six finish. But immediate elimination from the UEFA and the departure of Gabi Milito to Barça seem to have taken the wind from their sails. A run of nine games without a win resulted in this weekend's departure of Victor Fernández, who was actually on his second spell with the club. His first period in the 1990's was much more successful, and had many observers predicting that he would be Spain's manager after Javier Clemente. Now only England would have him, and he's too late for that.
13th - unlucky for some:
Mallorca always seem to be in the middle of life's table, and are another team on their second spell with a manager, the schoolmasterish-looking Gregorio Manzano, famous for his foul mouth and his ability to maintain teams in mid-table. The usual yawn in San Moix then, with Ibagaza looking half-decent and Arango, their other decent mucker, apparently in talks with Liverpool. Güiza has done ok, but shone more when he was at Getafe.
Staying up this time?
They only lasted a season back in 2003/04, but Murcia have put in some hardy performances, notably against Real Madrid and Atlético, and seem to have the work ethic necessary for staying alive. Ok at home, they've only won once away, and it seems a bit of a risk to rely on the fading Baiano for goals. But I reckon they'll stay up.
On the slide:
The same might not be said for Getafe, despite beginning to look last season like a veteran campaigner in the top flight, in only their second year there. Their epic campaign ended in a cup final and a more than decent 9th position, but also culminated in the departure of big Bernd to the Bernabéu. His replacement, Michael Laudrup, does a good line in fine wines and elegant suits, but so far has not quite convinced as a manager. Getafe suddenly look unconvinced at their approach, trying to play good football but without the resources to carry it out. Güiza has gone, and neither Uche nor Kepa have really looked the part in his place. One point from the bottom three, I smell relegation.
Another side with a weaker look to them this season, Recreativo have found goals horribly hard to come by. Fifteen goals in nineteen games is the stuff relegation is made of, and manager Victor Muñoz, despite his experience, seems to be on the verge of the sack every week. Definite candidates for the drop.
Not so Healthy:
After the euphoria of 2006 and a top four finish, things haven't been quite the same for Osasuna ('Health' in Basque). Too many good players left in the summer, and although Portillo was a good addition to the ranks, the losses of Webo, Valdo, David López, Iñaki Muñoz and Raúl Garcia have ripped the heart out of the side. Manager Cuco Ziganda is suddenly beginning to have a slightly hapless look to him. On few resources, Osasuna have managed to remain in the top flight since the millennium, but it's looking dodgy now.
The only way is down, baby:
Deportivo - oh dear. But after five fantastic seasons which followed on from their league win in 2000, the decline has been a steady one. Caparrós saw the way the wind was blowing and escaped to Bilbao, but the hang-dog nice bloke of La Liga, Miguel Angel Lotina, has saddled himself with yet another relegation issue - something in which he is becoming an expert. But good bloke or not, in the end you have to wonder if it's just a coincidence or if he's basically a bad manager.
Last week's scrap between the two first team goalies, ending in a whopping shiner for Israeli Aouate and a possible police investigation for Gustavo Munua, is simply an indication of the fact that Lotina has lost control. There's nothing there. They're going down, after one league title and four runners-up places in the last fifteen seasons. It's a shame, but it's on the cards.
Looking up at the stars:
But definitely from the gutter. Poor Levante - but they should really have gone down last season. Ask relegated Real Sociedad, who muttered darkly about refereeing favours and a few 'suitcases' during the final weeks of the season. Now they're definitely on their way, having garnered a mere eight points and scored only eleven goals in the first term. The fact that the players haven't been paid for a couple of months hardly helps the situation. Mustapha Riga looks a decent player, and will probably stay in the top flight when Levante go down, but it's looking a bit miserable with regard to the second term. Expect a slight improvement, but no miracles.
Read the first part of Phil Ball's La Liga half-term report here...
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