La Liga: Fine Margins 🇬🇧

Lumor

A wild swing of the leg from Eibar’s Oliveira resulting in the ball looping into the goal. The width of Manolo Reina’s fingertip followed up by a kiss off the post and the ball falling kindly back into his arms. The width of a post, as Lumor’s whipped cross almost catches Moya unawares whilst the game is 0-0. One brutal counter attack with Mallorca caught up field and out of shape with moments left to go. These are the fine margins of La Liga.

Mallorca could have found themselves on any points total between 0 and 6 in their opening two games so tight the games have been. In La Liga, the cruellest of places in Spanish football, the smallest details decide who takes home the points.

Fight and spirit

This Mallorca side is characterised by fight, determination and spirit, with the standard set by manager Vicente Moreno, his coaching staff and a number of key players. The starting 11 in the first two games of La Liga has included a majority of players who spent that season in the Segunda B with Mallorca. They appreciate what it is to be where they are and that is evident on the pitch.

The midfield 5 of Baba, Sevilla, Dani, Febas and Junior will certainly leave no inch of grass uncovered in their quest to recover all three points for Mallorca. They are backed up by a solid and resolute defensive unit and are led by Mr blood sweat and tears himself, Ante Budimir. The Croatian’s arrival in the winter market gave Mallorca a different way of playing the centre forward role, pressing harrying and never giving an easy moment to the central defenders. This level of fight and desire will in itself put Mallorca in a position to capitalise on the fine margins of the game, something they managed to do against Eibar, but so near yet so far against Real Sociedad.

Possession, Chances and Goals

Effort is the baseline and culture on which a team is built and it is there in spades. Yet effort alone cannot win you games. Possession of the ball allows you to dominate games, rest and ask questions of the opponents. Possession can lead to chances and chances to goals. No striker, even Lionel Messi, is expected to score with every chance, so the creation of a number of clear opportunities is key.

Possession though is not something that Mallorca have had much of in these opening two games. 42% against Eibar on the opening day and 36% against Real Sociedad this weekend. This will not be a huge concern for Moreno as his team regularly had less than 50% possession at home to lesser sides last season in the Segunda division. The counter attacking game and ability to create opportunities in a high % of entries into the final third was a key strength for this side last season.

However, things this year will be different. Understandably the wide players, currently Lago Junior and Dani Rodriguez, are spending a lot of time playing much deeper to plug holes in the midfield and make Mallorca difficult to play against. Against the higher quality of La Liga that is understandable. However, it has been to the detriment of getting players forward quickly and as a result the side has created less chances and scored less goals in their opening two games, with only one finding the net from the foot of a Mallorca player. This means that clean sheets are going to be critical this year in order to get victories and 1-0 is likely to be Mallorca’s most common scoreline, in either direction, with fine margins becoming even more important.

Into the Lion’s Den

Sunday sees Mallorca make their first trip on the road of the La Liga season, to Champions League side Valencia at La Mestalla. Mallorca fans will be well versed with their woes on the road last season. The side won only 4 games away from home, two of those against relegated sides. The also lost on their travels against the other two relegated sides and were in the bottom half of the table based on games away from Son Moix. Having only been able to muster 30-40% possession at home against lesser sides, it is a concern as to just how much pressure Mallorca will have to absorb on Sunday in La Mestalla.

Regardless of last season’s away form, Mallorca fans will be expecting little from La Mestalla on Sunday and anything the team takes will be a bonus. Survival in La Liga will not be built upon results against the top 4 sides, but on those sides around the bottom of the table. That said, despite their Copa Del Rey victory last season, Valencia are a club in turmoil. Off pitch issues between owner Peter Lim and the operational staff at the club, manager Marcelino and sporting director Pablo Longoria, seem to have transferred onto the pitch. There is uncertainty about the future of star player Rodrigo and they have only scored one goal in their opening two games, picking up one point.

Selection headache

Vicente Moreno will have selection headache for the game on Sunday, with three new signings added to the squad in the last week; Takefusa Kubo on loan from Real Madrid, Yannis Salibur on a three year contract from Guingamp and Cucho Hernandez on loan from Watford. All three will add quality in the attacking positions and are expected to challenge for a place on Sunday.

It remains to be seen whether Moreno will deviate from his solid and industrious side that he has set up with in the first two games. Away in La Mestalla hardly seems the place to throw caution to the wind. What these three players are likely to bring though is a more attacking mentality, possession, chances and goals. They could be the key to tipping the balance of those fine margins in the favour of Real Mallorca.


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