Flashback ten years ago to the year 2000. La Liga rose to the top spot of the UEFA coefficient rankings for the first time since 1966. The final of the UEFA Champions League featured two Spanish teams with Real Madrid defeating Valencia 3-0 at the Stade de France. Despite that Champions League victory, Real Madrid only finished fifth in the league, as Deportivo La Coruña won their first championship in its history. This started a five-year run where the Galicians played their best football in the Champions League, and they did not finish worse than third in La Liga. Fast-forward to September 26, 2010, and this Depor is eons away from their former selves as they played with impotence after they meekly fell to Almería 0-2 at the Riazor.
Last season, this column asked the question if Deportivo could return to their “Super Depor” days, but now, staying in the first division has come to the forefront for manager Miguel Ángel Lotina as Depor has continued their dip form since halfway through the previous campaign.
At first glance, the obvious, glaring problem lies within the Depor attack. Two goals in their first five matches, both via Andrés Guardado penalties, will not invoke fear in any opposing defense. Adrián and Lassad Nouioui lacked any chemistry between them heading the front line, and Riki, their top goal-scorer last year with only eight, has made constant reservations with the medical staff as he struggles with injury. Andrés Guardado, the most dynamic player for Deportivo La Coruña, has become a frustrated figure as his constant exertions have ultimately led to little result.
On the left wing, Guardado has missed the presence of Filipe Luís Kasmirski, now patrolling the left side of the defense with Atlético Madrid. Depor sailed high in the table throughout the first half of the 2009/10 season when Filipe Luís scored the opening goal against Athletic Bilbao in Jornada 19. The events that ensued in scoring that goal left grisly images and video of Filipe Luís’ ankle completely disfigured after Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz unintentionally pinned Filipe Luís underneath him.
Rarely is the starting left back the best and most important player of a team, but Filipe Luís embodied both of those roles, and Lotina said as much when he said that he would have rather been in the relegation zone and have a healthy and fit Filipe Luís than the fifth-place team that they were without him. It was no coincidence that Depor’s fall from the European places coincided with Filipe Luís’ injury.
They never scored many goals with him, but without him, Guardado, Riki, Juan Domínguez, and Juan Rodríguez all saw their levels drop. Depor scored the second fewest goals in La Liga with a mere thirty-five tallies, and with the selling of Filipe Luís to Atlético Madrid for €12 million, the offensive slump continues to be a major problem. Laure, Zé Castro, and Knut Olav Rindarøy have failed to provide support for Guardado on the left flank, and with the financial difficulties that Depor face, they cannot afford to bring in a clinical striker that can finish off the few moves that Depor create.
Deportivo La Coruña and recently promoted Hércules share many similarities in terms of their footballing philosophies, but Hércules bolstered their front line with Nelson Haedo Valdez and David Trézéguet to provide a cultured air to those scoring chances. While Trézéguet’s wife was originally from Alicante and likely influenced his move to Hércules, Borussia Dortmund made Valdez available to any European team that would pay for his transfer. Hércules splashed the €3.8 million necessary to pry Valdez from Germany, and Valdez won the match for Hércules at the Camp Nou against Barcelona, and Trézéguet won the match against Sevilla at home.
Depor could only afford to look into the free transfer market and the loan signing market because the money from the Filipe Luís sale had to be used for their internal debt. Yves Desmarets and Rubén Pérez have not exactly inspired in the midfield, and their loan signing from Valencia, Míchel Hererro, has been spending too much time with Riki in the training room with injury.
In Sunday’s match against Almería, while the offense maintained their lack of form, the usually solid back line of Manuel Pablo, Alberto Lopo, Diego Colotto, and the carousel of left backs (Knut Olav Rindarøy for yesterday’s match) blinked twice, and with such fine margins at which Depor are playing, a two-goal deficit is simply too large to overcome at this bleak moment.
Kalu Uche scored in the 5th minute from a straightforward corner to the six-yard box, and with Depor’s zonal marking system, Uche scythed through the mass of players and flew through the air unmarked as Depor goalkeeper Manu had no chance to get a finger on Uche’s header.
Uche sealed his brace in the 19th minute through fortunate circumstances, but he can thank Rindarøy for his second goal because Rindarøy’s attempted clearance inside the box took a wicked deflection off Albert Crusat onto the crossbar, and with a sprawled Manu after trying to get his hand onto the deflection, the rebound off the crossbar caromed directly to Uche, who headed it in unmolested for the 0-2 cushion.
Then a few minutes prior to the halftime whistle, Diego Colotto received a straight red card for what referee José Luis González González deemed to be a denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity as Colotto stuck a leg out to prevent Pablo Piatti from entering the penalty area. Piatti’s final touch that forced Colotto into the foul may or may not have been retrieved by Manu, but nevertheless, Piatti caught Colotto flat-footed and made the decision go to the referee rather than Colotto getting into the correct position so that he would not have had to leave his leg hanging to stop Piatti.
With all of these negative consequences on the pitch, the normally supportive and frenzied Riazor turned on their players, and every time Lotina made a substitution, the whistles rained down, especially on Yves Desmarets and Adrián when they left the pitch.
The final whistle blew after ninety-three minutes, but the Depor fans (well, whatever fans were left by that time) drowned out González González’s whistle with whistles of their own as they shouted their disgust with the players. While they vented their venom for the final result, they seemed more frustrated that Depor laid down in the second half, even though they were a man down, and let Almería cruise without any extended effort.
Is there any light for Depor as they stumble into the arduous middle of the season? Save for this performance against Almería, the defensive four remains a stout unit, and if Depor can sneak in a goal or two, those goals have a decent chance of standing up as match-winners. Until Riki rises to full health, Depor will have to scrap and scratch and claw for goals, and even when Riki returns to the starting eleven, the onus will be on captain Manuel Pablo to lead the defense and concede one or zero goals in order to stay afloat.
Paging Roy Makaay and Diego Tristán to the emergency room. Depor is on life support.
Fueras de Juego
– In Greek mythology, Hercules made his name with his strength and giant-killing. In 2010, Hércules CF follow in their eponymous namesake as they slay their second giant, Sevilla, on Sunday evening with a 2-0 victory, courtesy of two David Trézéguet goals in the first half. Sevilla chairman José María del Nido needed a final pillar to break so that he could bring in former Mallorca manager Gregorio Manzano and sack Antonio Álvarez, and a loss to Hércules provided the ammo del Nido desired. The Álvarez era ended with a Copa del Rey triumph, a last-breath win to secure fourth place in La Liga, an embarrassing exit from the UEFA Champions League to Sporting Braga, and a listless five matches in this current season.
– Real Madrid must have caught the Depor disease because they too cannot fire the ball into the back of the net. A 0-0 draw at the Estadi Ciutat de València to lowly Levante will ratchet the pressure on José Mourinho as he tries to mix the right ingredients for his master plan. After a visit to Auxerre in the Champions League, they host Deportivo La Coruña in the late Sunday match in Jornada 6 in a game sure to have plenty of goals…
– With low expectations following a season that came within a minute and a half of a Champions League playoff berth, new manager Michael Laudrup has steered Mallorca to a respectable seven points through five matches, including a comfortable 2-0 win over a Real Sociedad side that will trouble La Liga sides all season long. Fernando Cavenaghi scored both goals for Mallorca, and if Laudrup can count on Cavenaghi to score goals after his long drought last season with Bordeaux and through the first four games with Mallorca, Laudrup will be a contender for the Don Balón Award for the best manager of the year in Spain.