Eibar’s La Liga problems have them staring danger in the eye

There’s pessimism in the Basque country, as far as La Liga concerns go. Real Sociedad are providing hope up north, but problematically for them they provide even more entertainment, as their porous defence leaks almost as many goals as their clinical forwards score.

Meanwhile, Athletic Bilbao are struggling to adapt to their new manager, Cuco Ziganda, as the toll of Europa League duties combining with weekly La Liga games has them completely out of rhythm.

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But further down the table, you will find the Basque country’s other two representatives in the 2017/18 edition of La Liga campaign, Alavés and Eibar.

These two humble outfits would have hoped for a lot more from the first eleven league games this season, but are now most certainly involved in the relegation battle that is currently shaping up.

In weeks 11 (just gone) and 13, Eibar play two hugely important Basque derbies. They’ve already lost the first, going down 3-1 to Real Sociedad, and their second against Alavés has become a crunch tie for both teams.

In their 3-1 defeat to La Real, Eibar’s pessimism can be summarised well in one tiny facet of the tactical clash: they deployed three central defenders to play against one opposition central striker.

Playing three on one, especially with two more defenders on either flank (and they were definitely not attacking wing-backs), turned out to be a waste of resources that didn’t work out at all – Eibar still found themselves 3-0 down a minute into the second half.

Eibar, alongside Málaga, have the second worst attack in the league, with just six goals to their name so far, and the second worst defence, allowing 25 past them already this season.

Alavés are the worst attacking in the league with five, and it took until the sixth game of the season for them to register their first – somewhat ironically against the defending champions Real Madrid.

Before the start of the season, this column predicted Alavés’s woes, which you can find by clicking here.

On paper, Eibar have a good team that’s capable of finishing mid table comfortably. They’ve retained the vast majority of the squad they had last campaign, with just Florian Lejeune the only big departure.

After flirting with reaching the lofty heights of Europa League last season and just narrowly missing out on what would have been an historic first ever appearance in European football for the Basque minnows, Eibar fans would have been well within their right to expect another season at least without being caught up in the relegation dog fight.

Eibar’s biggest lament so far of this season is undoubtedly the injury situation of Pedro Leon. The former Real Madrid winger/attacking midfielder hasn’t seen a minute of the pitch so far this season with a terribly unfortunate injury to his left knee.

Operations haven’t the most successful, and his overall recovery and ultimate return to football has seen a few delays already.

Since their arrival to La Liga just a few short years ago, Eibar have been characterised by a strong 4-4-2 formation, which manager José Luis Mendilibar has even had to abandon without his star in the team to make it work.

In Leon’s absence, Eibar have been rather unsuccessfully deploying an unbalanced 5-3-2 formation, which Mendilibar plans on ditching upon Leon’s return.

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In their prime last season, Leon and Eibar were wonderful to watch. Playing their own particular brand of free-flowing football that still held a stern, rigid sense of position, built from the back, Leon scored 10 league goals and marked five assists too in 2016/17.

And we don’t even have the stats for the number of passes he made leading to the assist, or else his numbers would look even more impressive.

Eibar have established themselves so much as La Liga regulars now that it’s easy to forget that in 2016/17 they played to an average home attendance (4837) not much more than what Cork City drew in the League of Ireland (4324 for the 2017 season).

If they don’t get their act together soon they could be facing similar numbers away from home too.

Pedro Leon is not the only woe that Eibar can count this season. They’re also waiting for returns of an array of talent in Fran Rico, Iván Alejo, Gonzalo Escalante, the latter two in particular to help in attack.

The good news for Eibar is that this week, Pedro Leon has returned to training with the team. Heading into an international week gives him a lot of time to catch up in fitness and make himself available for selection for their next game, against Real Betis. Escalante and Rico most likely won’t see a football pitch until 2018 though.

Even when Leon returns to the side however, Eibar don’t have much experience as a club trying to battle their way out of a downward spiral.

Their first La Liga campaign saw a brilliant first half of the season, followed by a miserable second half which saw them finish 18th and saved from relegation only because Elche were relegated for financial reasons.

Since then, remarkably, they haven’t really struggled in La Liga, building up impressive points talleys early in the campaign and building on the back of it, always going from strength to strength.

This season is proving to be a distinctly different for Eibar, with struggles from the get-go.

Following the visit of Betis after the international break, Eibar travel to fellow Basque strugglers Alavés, in what is shaping up to be one of the most important derbies in Spain this season.

Player of the Week: Paco Alcácer. The forgotten man at Barcelona was a surprise inclusion in their starting XI against Sevilla, perhaps even more surprisingly playing up front alongside Luis Suarez.

Two strikers is something we haven’t seen so far from Barca in a long time. Alcácer took a gift from Sergio Escudero to neatly finish the opening goal of the game before Sevilla came back at the Blaugranas. 

Just when it looked as though the pressure was very much on and the prospect of dropping points was real – up stepped the former Valencia striker to race ahead of his marker Simon Kjaer to get on the end of a pinpoint cross from Rakitic to win the points.

Goal of the Week: Marco Asensio just can’t stop scoring Goal of the Season contenders. Honestly, there needs to be two Goal of the Season awards at this stage, one for Marco Asensio, and another for everybody else.

La Liga Week 11 full results: Real Betis 2Getafe, Valencia 3Leganes, Deportivo La Coruna 0Atletico Madrid, Alaves 1Espanyol, Barcelona 2Sevilla, Levante 1-2 Girona, Celta Vigo 3-1 Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad 3Eibar, Villarreal 2Malaga, Real Madrid 3Las Palmas

The Author

Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields is an Irish football writer currently living in Barcelona, focusing on Spain's La Liga. Interests include the intersection of politics and football, football history, and smaller, humble teams with noisy, boisterous fans.

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