Can Deportivo La Coruña be “Super Depor” Again?
An impressive 1-0 win by Deportivo La Coruña over Sevilla on Saturday raises Depor to a tie of third place with Sevilla at fifteen points, four points behind league leaders FC Barcelona. Los blanquiazules have won five of their first seven matches this season, and their only two losses came at the hands of Espanyol 2-3 and Real Madrid 2-3. Depor has built their success this season on their quick counter-attacking ability and their positional defense. Besides their 0-3 drubbing of lowly Xerez at Chapín, Depor’s other four victories ended in 1-0 score lines in favor the Galician club.
The Depor – Sevilla match was a microcosm of how Deportivo La Coruña continued their solid form. For the first fifteen minutes, Depor canceled out any semblance of a Sevilla attack. Sevilla was somewhat handicapped by injuries and the previous week’s World Cup qualifiers. A majority of Sevilla’s players performed in the international break, including their stalwart central defender Sébastien Squillaci, who missed the Depor match with a calf injury sustained while playing for France, and Luís Fabiano, who was not included in the match day squad because of his long travels from South America with the Seleção. Andrés Palop, unrelated to the World Cup qualifiers, also had a calf injury and was forced to miss the clash with Depor.
The breakthrough came in the 38th minute when Juan Rodríguez absolutely uncorked a low-range missile from twenty-five yards that struck the frame and sneaked into goal to beat deputy goalkeeper Javi Varas on his near post. From a long diagonal ball, Depor flicked it on towards goal, but with no teammate in the area, it was a simple clearance for the left back Fernando Navarro, but he scuffed it right into the direction of Rodríguez. Rodríguez settled the ball, took one touch forward, and sent a lash of fury past a defenseless Javi Varas.
Rather than retreating into a shell after capturing the lead, Deportivo La Coruña actively sought after the second goal to seal the three points. In the first minute of stoppage time to end the first half, Iván Pérez swung a free kick from near the edge of the penalty area, and Riki created space for himself to make contact on the free kick. Riki struck his header cleanly, but Javi Varas exhibited his cat-like quickness and batted the ball wide of his left near post. Even though Sevilla possessed the ball for 59% of the half, they hardly did anything with it. They did not have a shot on goal, while Depor seemed to have more impetus in all phases of the game. Depor deserved the 1-0 lead. Whether Sevilla’s phlegmatic play and lack of vitality were due to injuries or general fatigue from World Cup qualifiers, they inexcusably ghosted through the first half.
Sevilla picked up their play in the second half and pinned Deportivo La Coruña in their own half of the pitch for a majority of the time, but Sevilla managed only one shot on target, and Daniel Aranzubia routinely tipped Álvaro Negredo’s shot over the crossbar. At the end of the match, with Depor hanging on to their one-goal advantage, Mexican international Andrés Guardado exemplified his team’s unending work rate and fighting spirit. Guardado did not have a particularly great game and did not influence the Depor attack in accordance with his usual high standards, but his mediocre performance was not due to a dearth of energy.
In the 93rd minute, Depor was eating the seconds away at this point, and Guardado was sent on a long run down the right wing. The diagonal ball was well past Guardado, and it would have been excusable if he let the ball go into touch, but Guardado ran at full speed and slid to keep the ball in play. That touch was a little heavy, and the ball headed toward the end line, but Guardado picked himself up and made another slide to prevent a goal kick. At most, his efforts cost Sevilla five or six seconds, but those precious seconds were paramount with Sevilla trying to equalize late in the game, and this unselfish attitude was evident throughout the squad.
With Deportivo La Coruña’s inspiring start to this season’s campaign, there will be inevitable comparisons to the success of the Super Depor teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s. One glaring difference between the two eras is the attacking talent and skill. With “Das Phantom” Roy Makaay, Diego Tristán, and “El Rifle” Walter Pandiani up front, Deportivo La Coruña continually was one of the top scoring teams in La Liga. No one will mistake Riki, Adrián, and Iván Pérez for the former trio, but they are capable of scoring the important goals if not necessarily a high quantity of goals.
Andrés Guardado is fast becoming a force in La Liga with his pace and skill, similar to former Depor wingers Albert Luque and Fran González. Juan Rodríguez admirably fills the defensive midfielder role previously occupied by Aldo Duscher and Depor legend Mauro Silva. The back line remains a strength as current right back and captain Manuel Pablo lends his leadership and skills to his defensive mates. He was a main part of those former Depor teams, so he has the experience of witnessing Depor at their stratospheric heights. The other two holdovers from the Super Depor days are box-to-box midfielder Sergio González and the midfield playmaker Juan Carlos Valerón.
With the limited budget that Deportivo La Coruña currently works under these days, they cannot afford to bring in expensive talent as they did ten years ago. They have to rely more on industry and guile than the flair and style to what they became accustomed when Javier Irureta roamed the technical area. Current entrenador Miguel Ángel Lotina keeps this modest squad in the top half of the table, and with the backing of club president Augusto Lendoiro, Lotina’s only worries pertain to the improvement of the team and its results rather than always looking behind his shoulder. A renaissance to domestic and European glory is obviously premature, but the building blocks are currently in place for Depor to continue their slow and steady ascent toward their former perch as one of the leading lights of Spanish football.