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LaLigaWeekly On September - 26 - 2010

Why Are Zaragoza and Deportivo La Coruna So Bad?

Deportivo vs Villarreal

One Good Team, One Bad Team

After five games, the picture at the top of the table is still a little muddied. Real played out a pathetic draw away to Levante, Barcelona got an impressive win at San Mames and Valencia was able to come out 2-0 against Sporting. Sevilla continues to struggle, Atletico continues to win, surprisingly or not depending on what side of the Atletico fence you sit, and Deportivo and Zaragoza continue to be bad. Diabolically bad, if you are a fan of goal scoring and addressing games with the intention of winning three points. Hence the picture at the bottom of the table is a tad more clear, as these two teams, along with Levante, look like clear relegation strugglers for the remainder of the season. Without directly addressing Levante, I will try to answer the question of why both teams have been so god awful at the start of this season.

Depor had a strong start to last season, a stark contrast to this year, but they ended the year very poorly. It appears that this form has carried over in to the new year, grinding out 0-0 draws regardless of home or away. Miguel Angel Lotinas general drabness as a person seems to have permeated the side, who lack creativity but more importantly, lack a player who can convert even the simplest of chances. Having watched a limp display against Villarreal last Thursday, the final game of jornada cuatro, it seems pretty obvious that the team lacks goals. Shut out in four of the five games it has played this year, goals seem in short supply. That the two goals against Getafe were penalties means its been six games, including last season, that the club has not scored from open play. For a La Liga team, that is simply unacceptable. And there in lies Deportivos reason for being so bad. Yet it is not down to not scoring enough, in fact its far more complex than that.

Deportivo, built in the image of Miguel Angel Lotina, do not create all that much, hence they do not score much. A 4-2-3-1 formation they use often deploys a limited winger in Adrian as the main striker, or uses an immobile Riki without ever using an established playmaker such has Juan Carlos Valderon. Andres Guardado is a great player, but players like Desmerats, Michel, Jona, Ruben Perez and Lassad have been added either on a free or on a loan, showing the lack of moneys available to strengthen the squad for Lotina. Unproven, journey, or just plain bad for the likes of Riki and Adrian, its not a group of player that many would fear as a goal threat. That the overly secure and defensive natured tactics of Lotina make Depor even less of a scoring threat means that 0-0 draws are what the team looks to play for at the start of every game. An almost cynical outlook on football you would think.

I sort of predicted a bad start for Deportivo. If you follow the La Liga Weekly podcast, I said Depor would carry over the crap end of season form in to this year, and sure enough they did. With crippling debts, an over bearing president, manic-depressive coach and an unimpressive squad, it will be a long season for Depor. Right now they are bad because they cant seem to score, but also because they rarely look interested in doing just that. Its hard to see how the club gets itself out of debt while also improving the squad, meaning another year of mediocrity. Its become a Lotina trademark at this point.

Zaragoza had a different season to Deportivo. A rough start lead to heavy changes in the winter transfer window, including a coach switch, and Zaragoza ended up one of the better teams of the second half of the season. All the changes created a completely different situation for Zaragoza last year, but the summer has also brought more changes, with Zaragozas most effective strikers both not being signed permanently, and from there the cracks in the squad began to show. My answer to why Zaragoza is so bad this year is pretty similar to Deportivo. They will have a very tough time scoring, and unlike Deportivo, their defense is not nearly as solid. Without Humberto Suazo and Adrian Colunga, there is a significant gap up front that was never properly addressed. Marco Perez is still very young and will need time, while Sinama Pongolle is lacking in confidence and Braulio is a Segunda level player at best. Other players have come and gone (Uche is still injured and that is also an important absence), but up top there has been a lack of quality added which is most alarming.

I still rate Ander Herrera very highly as a playmaker, but his tricky play often leads to little as he rarely has a player to pick a pass out with, and he is not much of a goal scorer himself. The 4-2-3-1 system unfortunately leads to severe problems in-between the lines, as often the wingers are not as advanced as Ander, leaving only the lone striker ahead of him when he has the ball. This often create 2v4 situations, and simple math shows the success rate is not very high in such situations. If Aurelio Gay is to see more goals, he either needs to push his winger higher up the pitch (loosing Eliseu was as big a loss as Suazo or Colunga it must be said), or only play one central midfielder and two strikers, giving Ander more targets. Both would compromise an already iffy defense, and thus is the conundrum that Gay faces. Go for it from the start of every game or play it safe and see what the football gods toss your way. So far, the football gods have not bothered to watch a Zara game, and thus last place in the table. A personnel revolution may not be needed, but some bravery from the coach and a stronger concentration from the backline could save them.

Watching them take on Atletico on Sunday night, you would have assumed they would be up for the game given some bizarre referring decisions that went in their favor. The first half went mostly Atleticos way, with Diego Costa getting his first La Liga goal for the colchoneros, having waited a couple of years of loans for it. But in the second half, referee Cesar Muniz Fernandez, he of the slicked back hair and poor calls, decided that an innocuous stab at the ball from Tiago constituted a back pass when Zaragozas Ander was in a motion of passing the ball when Tiagos stabbed tackle came through. De Gea hesitated to pick the ball up just outside the six yard box, and when he senses a tad of pressure he picked it up and was called for handling a back pass. Watching it on replay, it was a bizarre call, given that heading and chesting a ball straight to your keeper does not constitute a back pass in the rules of the game but an unintentional tackle somehow did. The free kick placement was fortuitous for Zara, but after a few yellow cards, nothing came of the chance.

That the Calderon was enraged by the decision was an understatement, but so to were the Atletico players, and after the ball was cleared from the free kick, Jose Antonio Reyes was given his marching orders for raising an arm in to Matteo Continis back. Again, a bizarre call given Contini played up the contact and was looking for it given his posturing to shepherd a ball out that was quite far from the sidelines anyways. None the less, the man advantage never mattered either, as a 2-1 shot advantage for Zaragoza meant little as Atletico held on for the 1-0 win. Possession was even, but Zaragoza could not convert their chances, an that is where the problem lies. Its not an easy or quick fix, and its often what
separates the better teams from the rest, but possibly recalling Suazo from Mexico this Janaury could help. Otherwise, Zara will have a struggle, especially since Hercules and Sociedad have looked pretty good so far, and Santander and Almeria have picked up points finally.

Its early to say who is in immediate danger of relegation, although Levante seem easy targets. Zaragoza and Deportivo are in some trouble, but it is still early days, and Almeria, Santander and Hercules still have time to drop points also. Its interesting to not that both Depor and Zara are playing the ever popular 4-2-3-1 system and not doing very well with it, leading me to believe that this system is not suited for a team that does not have very dynamic forwards/wingers, which is the case for both teams. A tactical change, or some infusion of personnel may help both sides, but its also worth mentioning that neither coach is all that safe in his position, so changes seem imminent unless there is a dramatic improvement soon. Somehow I doubt that.

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