Familiar signs point to familiar La Liga turbulence for Zaragoza
Zaragoza’s 6-0 annihilation at the hands of Real Madrid asked more questions than it answered, both for the competitiveness of La Liga as a competition and of Zaragoza as a team.
For La Primera, such a scoreline and performance is being held up as the latest to illustrate an increasing divide between Real Madrid and Barcelona and the rest of the League - an issue further exacerbated by Barcelona’s 5-0 victory over Villarreal on Monday night. The result’s effect on Zaragoza meanwhile, has been one of questioning. The club’s ambitions for the season are under scrutiny and not for the first time.
To find the beginning of this period of turmoil, it is best to look back at the 2009-10 season. Zaragoza had returned to La Liga after a solitary campaign in the Segunda Division but found themselves struggling back in the top-flight. Ahead of the January transfer window, Zaragoza looked deflated and staring the drop to the Segunda straight in the face, spending a total of seven consecutive weeks in the relegation zone.
A new Coach, Jose Aurelio Gay, was brought in to replace Marcelino Garcia Toral, and a vigorous transfer window ensued for the Aragonese club as they looked to overhaul the squad. A total of eight players were brought in, including Brazilian defender Edmilson, Czech midfielder Jiri Jarosik, Recreativo striker Adrian Colunga and Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez.
The players acquired differed greatly in impact but somehow managed to pull off what looked beyond them at the half-way point of the campaign to secure safety with a 14th place finish, a position that without context would not allude to having endured such a difficult campaign.
Last season saw Zaragoza again flirt heavily with relegation once more, spending 22 weeks in the drop-zone, including a 17-week consecutive streak. Another change of Coach resulted mid-season, with Javier Aguirre coming in. The team’s fortunes improved with the new man in charge but they remained battling relegation and going into the final matchday sat in 18th place. A 2-1 away victory at an already-safe Levante ensured their survival and a final placing of 13th, similar to the previous season’s final standing.
Determined to not endure a repeat of last season’s stressful campaign, and in light of an increasingly dire financial situation, Los Maños have again gone back to the drawing board regarding their squad.
Aguirre and President Agapito Iglesias have overseen a drastic reshuffling of the team. High wage-earners departed, including team captain Gabi, despite his personal best contribution of 11 goals last season.
The result is though, that despite some high-prolife departures, that the 2011-12 squad is still on paper talented to avoid relegation. What is most interesting, and perhaps most crucial to the squad’s potential can be found in Aguirre’s attacking options.
Zaragoza struggled in front of goal last season, netting just 40 times - only the three relegated sides scored fewer - and it was apparent this was an issue their summer transfer policy needed to address. Reinforcements have arrived and while there was debate over adding another forward to the squad, they have now settled for three strikers accompanied by a plethora of wingers and attacking midfielders.
The forward trio possess an interesting mix of attributes and possibilities; Braulio has been at La Romareda since 2008 and has been joined by deadline-day recruits Luis Garcia and Helder Postiga. Selling Ikechukwu Uche - the striker scored only once for the club - to Villarreal for €5m financed the deals for the two new signings, a pair that arrive with different expectations.
Luis Garcia has a wealth of La Liga experience, predominantly with Espanyol, and resembles a solid purchase. While not an out-and-out striker, he will nonetheless create chances and it will be interesting to see whether Aguirre opts to use him as a centre-forward or whether he puts him on the wings, where he was used towards the end of his time at Espanyol.
Helder Postiga’s arrival represents more of a significant gamble. Ever since he burst onto the European football scene under the guidance of Jose Mourinho at Porto, his career has never quite lived up to his early years. Now aged 29, this move appears another example of Postiga’s desperation to prove himself on a bigger stage, having tried before with Tottenham Hotspur where his time was nothing short of disastrous. Since his spell at Spurs, he has returned to Portugal on two occasions as well as plying his trade for singular seasons in France and Greece respectively. Now he departs his homeland once again, this time to try and succeed in La Liga.
Zaragoza’s most pressing issue is who will get the goals they need to guarantee La Liga survival. Postiga is very much a confidence player - as was particularly illustrated when under pressure at Tottenham and in his second spell with Porto - and the danger is that the pressure he may come under in Spain could prove too much for him. When you consider other names that were linked with Zaragoza - Hugo Almeida and Adrian Colunga - it appears a very risky move to have signed Postiga.
However, it could also serve as a reminder not just of the financial situation Zaragoza are currently in but also of their ambitions for the coming season. It would appear that despite not wanting to be embroiled in a relegation scrap, the Aragonese club does not possess the means to do anything but flirt with the drop to La Segunda.