AROUND LA LIGA – In the previous article, The Art of War, I outlined the tactics we’re using this season. Now we’ll look out how that strategy and the players fared in the first half of season 2.
In this article we’ll look at:
- Around La Liga
- Our line up
- Season 2, part 1
AROUND LA LIGA
We know about my transfer dealings, but what about the rest of La Liga? Has the money spent in Almeria put the team in a good position to succeed? Or have the big boys splashed the cash and pulled further away? Starting with the Champions, Real Madrid spent £37.5m on Simikan from RB Leipzig and £62m on Coman from FC Bayern whilst losing both Mendy and Asensio who joined Man City for a combined £84m. Barcelona has spent nothing at all and only received £8m on outgoing players. Atletico Madrid spent £25.5m on Soppy (Atalanta) and Baumgarti (PSV) and took Nathan Ake on loan from Man City. Real Sociedad was the only other big spenders, adding Matheus from Sporting Braga for £17.25m but lost Alex Remiro to Spurs (£27.5m). The other teams I’d be expecting to be challenging for the European places (Betis, Sevilla, Valencia, Villareal and Bilbao) spent only £21m combined. This is definitely good news for me and my Almeria side. Down at the bottom, the newly promoted teams; Levante, Las Palmas and Real Sporting, spent only £8.4 between them and could be in for long, tough seasons. As far as non-player news goes, Abel Ferriera joined Barcelona from Palmeiras in Brazil, replacing Xavi who is still unemployed going into January. Manolo Jiminez has taken over at Sevilla after their 8th-placed finish, whilst Didier Deschamps leaves the French national team to join Real Sociedad and Lionel Scaloni joins Villareal after being sacked by Argentina.
Turning attention back to Almeria, here’s the first team squad as we entered the 2023-24 season:
We added significant strength to the spine of the team, picking up a solid, all-round striker in Satriano, and a physical and technically gifted midfielder in Elmas and ended up signing two defenders in Lyanco and Alderete. The two upgrades in the back three meant that Mendes could move back out to his natural position of wingback where he’ll take the starting spot away from Pozo. Despite not being as polished at attacking, he’s much more solid defensively. The eagle-eyed will notice a new name in midfield. Gui is a decent 21-year-old who could turn into a nice player. For some reason, no one wanted him on loan so I’m keeping him in and around the first-team squad and will give him changes off the bench when circumstances allow us to do so. For the first half of the season at least.
Here’s how we’ll line up:
Chumi and Kaiky will share the Left CB slot whilst the experience of Alderete and Lyanco guide them through games. Elmas will get forward as much as possible, using his height and strength as well as his creativity to cause the opposition problems, whilst Satriano will offer an all-around threat and act as a decoy for the pace of Ramazani. Confident in the players I bought in (who were all thoroughly scouted and analysed) and buoyed by the lack of proper spending around the division, I think we can make a real push for Europe this season.
SEASON 2, PART 1
August & September
The fixture list was kind, giving us a favourable first few games and we were able to win all three. Newly promoted Las Palmas and then Celta Vigo was beaten 1-0, thanks to goals by Toure. Both games were dull affairs, but we’re yet to concede. Another newly-promoted team, Levante, were also duly dispatched with Ramazani grabbing both goals. Unfortunately, Belmonte picked up and would miss the next month. The tenacious ball-winning abilities of the Argentinian were sorely missed as Real Madrid beat us 3-0 for the third time in a row, however, when in possession we were actually starting to look quite good! Up next were last year’s La Liga runners-up Real Betis in a game which we controlled throughout and won after a 40th-minute goal by Melero in another defensively solid outing. On a high after a strong performance, we came up against Real Sociedad where ex-Almeria star Umar Sadiq scored twice, to give us our second defeat of the season. It was a humbling game where we struggled to keep the ball and create any real chances.
October & November
Thankfully, we didn’t dwell on the Sociedad game too long and were able to get straight back to winning ways against 20th placed Real Sporting with a 3-1 win, where Lazaro notched up a hat trick of assists as he stood in for the rested Satriano. With news of their illustrious manager (me!) getting a 3-year contract extension, the players ran riot against Villareal. Satriano scored twice in a player of the week performance and Elmas added a third in a game which really showed how effective this team can be when the planets align. Satriano continued his goalscoring form as he and Robertone gave us a 2-0 win over Elche, but picked up a niggle so missed the next game against Osasuna. Normally a game versus Osasuna wouldn’t really count for much, however, in the build-up, Eguaras (who I didn’t see eye to eye with last season and therefore sold to Osasuna) said a few unflattering things about me in the press, which naturally I gave back. I thought this might have come back to haunt me as he scored an absolute screamer after 11 minutes and we were really struggling. Luckily, Ramazani equalised just before halftime and then gave us a 2-1 win with a beautiful volley. After winning four out of four in October, we headed into November with a tougher set of games ahead. After a 2-0 win over Cadiz, we were lucky to escape Valencia with a 1-0 win from a Robertone free kick. The hosts were by far the better team but we’d now won SIX games in a row. We were outclassed for the second game in a row, this time against Atletico Madrid, but we managed to claw our way to a 0-0 draw where our ‘keeper Pacheco put in a Man of the Match performance. The month ended with a tremendous game against Athletic Bilbao. After going behind twice to Inaki Williams and Berengeur goals, we clawed our way back into the game and grabbed a 3-2 win after a Centelles cross deflected high into the air and Ramazani was able to beat the onrushing goalkeeper to the ball. Elsewhere, Getafe was able to hold Real Madrid to a 0-0 draw and we moved up into 2nd place in La Liga, just 1 point behind Barcelona!!
In a nice touch to start December, I was awarded the Manager of the Month award and received glowing commendations from the board. The supporters, however….
Tough crowd… literally!! We’re in 2nd place, for the love of god!
We absolutely dominated the first half against Sevilla, with 68% possession and 11 shots to 4 (not bad for a team who don’t actively seek possession) but still went into halftime at 0-0. Thankfully, left-wing back Akieme was able to put in an inspired second-half performance as he laid on assists for Ramazani and Melero. Mallorca was beaten 1-0 with another Ramazani goal and Barcelona beat Real Madrid which meant the gap between us in 2nd and them in 3rd stretched to 4 points. In the last post, you’ll recall I’d build a team of warriors, who would fight for every point… well I don’t think bravery and determination can be underestimated. The fight they showed to come back from 0-2 down against Espanyol to win 3-2 with a 93rd-minute Ramazani penalty was great to watch and capped off a second-half hattrick for the Belgian striker. Then something REALLY special happened. Something beyond my wildest dreams. No, not our 3-0 demolition of Getafe, where Ramazani picked up another two goals, but this:
Barcelona 1 – 2 Real Sociedad.
Didier Deschamps worked his magic and managed to beat Barcelona! This meant that we went into the Christmas break TOP OF LA LIGA!!
Whilst our strikers have done really well, it’s our defence – joint best in the division – who’ve made the real difference. The additions of Lyanco and Alderete have been game-changers, as well as Mendes’s move to wing back which has meant we no longer get beaten at back post headers as much as when Pozo was the starter last season.
QUICK STATS REVIEW
You can see from the General Performance chart that we’re doing well across the board and are showing a huge improvement over last season. We’re doing a great job of winning possession much higher up the pitch and we’re creating chances and converting them into shots. As per the Possession Gained chart, 42% of possession is won in the middle third, yet our standard defensive line and mid-block are the same as last season. I think this really drills home the importance of having a strong spine of powerful players.
You might have guessed from reading this update that Largie Ramazani has been on fire this season. So far, he’s scored 14 goals in 18 appearances whilst his strike partner Satriano, has scored 5. Both also have 2 assists each. The REAL improvements have been on the flanks, with Akieme having 6 assists and Mendes notching up 5. They’ve already equalled the total assists for all four Wing Backs from last season and we’re now one of the best crossing teams in La Liga. The most under-appreciated player, however, is our Goalkeeper Pacheco Fernando. With an 85.5% Save ratio and 5 expected goals prevented, he’s the real reason we’re where we are. He’s always looked unbeatable, especially against Atletico Madrid when he produced some outstanding saves.
Can we stay in the top spot? Who knows. Whilst we’re playing well, we’ve been lucky with injuries. We also got demolished by 3rd placed Real Madrid and the gulf in class between the two sides was evident. Also, we haven’t played Barcelona yet and we welcome them to the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterraneos in the first game after the Christmas break. What a game that’s going to be! We rank 4th in the number of goals scored, so fingers crossed that our defence and goalkeeper can maintain their high-performance levels for the rest of the season. I wouldn’t say I like doing any spending in the January window, so unless someone comes in for one of the first team players it should be relatively quiet. Although I do have my eyes on a couple of prospects, Make sure you keep an eye out for the next blog where we’ll see how we got on…
In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy staring at the league table…until the Barcelona game at least…