RCD Mallorca: La Liga 2018-19 Season Preview 🇬🇧

Abdon flare

Thousands of supporters on the pitch, players being carried on the shoulders of fans, Abdon Prats achieving godlike status as he celebrated with his people at Son Moix with a flare in his hand. An incredible comeback from two goals down that resulted in grown men crying, embracing total strangers and a collective smile that lasted for weeks. Those scenes are still so fresh in the memory and will live on in the minds of RCD Mallorca fans for years to come. Remember that night…?

Fast forward almost two months and RCD Mallorca are on the verge of their return to La Liga after a six season absence from the top division.
Just how competitive can they be?

Aim – 17th

Realistic RCD Mallorca fans will realise that the only aim of the club this year has to be survival, however it comes. Any team’s first season back in La Liga is a challenge, but as a side promoted through the play offs it really is an uphill battle. Not only do they have almost a month less than the other promoted sides in which to prepare, they also have to contend with having the lowest (until La Liga reduced Granada’s due to overspending) salary budget in the league which, despite the wealth of the American owners, restricts who the club can bring in.

To be certain of safety the club will need to amass a daunting 40 points, no team has been relegated when amassing that amount in the last 5 years. However, Mallorca will be hoping for a slightly different dynamic to be in play this year. In 2017-18 30 points would have been enough to stay in La Liga, a total that is much more achievable for Mallorca. The key to this will be their home form at Son Moix, a fortress for them in their promotion season and somewhere they are unbeaten in competitive fixtures in 2019.

How will the team set up?


Vicente Moreno has not deviated too far from the starting 11 that won promotion to La Liga. This is partly through loyalty to those trusted players, but also due to his unhappiness at the recruitment of CEO Maheta Molango.

Only two of the summer purchases have forced their way into the starting line up that we are likely to see on Saturday against Eibar. The first is Lumor, coming in at left back. However, his inclusion has been forced by the departure of Pervis Estupiñan to Segunda champions Osasuna. The second is Alexi Febas, who has had two excellent seasons in the Segunda on loan from Real Madrid B and is more than ready for the step up. He, arguably, improves the team in the middle of the pitch and Mallorca fans will be looking forward to seeing him combine with Salva Sevilla.

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How can they change that tactically?

Moreno has not deviated too far from his preferred formation of the promotion season of 4-3-3 during preseason. However, what we have seen from the Valencian coach is a higher degree of flexibility in that formation depending on the situation. In the preseason game against CF Malaga that the coach was looking to dominate, he employed a 4-4-2 formation. Later in preseason he reverted to 4-5-1 against Getafe, the biggest test the side faced in their preparations for La Liga, and then 4-3-3 against Levante. At times this has even been a 4-4-1-1 formation with Febas pushing into the number 10 position.

Moreno has a number of versatile players in the side who are comfortable and willing to play a number of positions. This means that he can use the same players to set up in different ways depending on the opponent, and even change this during the game. This is a huge step forward for Moreno’s coaching as we seldom saw a plan B during the promotion season, especially away from home where the side’s form was bottom half of the table.

Examples of how the side has set up during preseason are in the images above.

The elephant in the room here is Dani Rodriguez. Employed exclusively as a central midfielder in partnership with Marc Pedraza and Salva Sevilla last year, the centrocampista has played almost every minute of preseason on the right hand side of midfield. It is clear that this is not of his choosing but this trusty lieutenant will be loyal to his general, Moreno, and play wherever he is asked. He cannot offer what an attacking wide player might, but that is not his game. What you lose in attacking flair, you gain when he comes inside, which he will have license to do with Joan Sastre more than eager to push forward and overlap on the right hand side. Sastre was an excellent supplier of crosses last season, despite only 1 assist. Rodriguez has found his way onto the right due to the inclusion of Febas and the absence of Aridai Cabrera through injury. Whether he retains the shirt on Cabrera’s return remains to be seen, but for now he is in the box seat.

Goals

All three relegated sides averaged at around 1 goal per game last season and, inevitably conceded a high number of goals, 50-60% more than the number they themselves scored. The difference between the relegated sides and Celta Vigo, finishing 17th, was that Celta Vigo managed to score a much higher number of goals (53) and fire themselves to safety. This demonstrates that it is not only a solid defence that will keep you in La Liga.

Last season Mallorca scored 53 goals in 42 games, a healthy amount for a side towards the top of the table. They will need to ensure that they can find the net in order to get all 3 points this season. Whilst draws add vital points to the tally, more important is turning draws into victories and for that they will need goals.

Last season’s top scorer was Lago Junior with 11 goals and the Ivorian will be crucial to any survival effort the club is mounting. With only one centre forward, it is critical that the wide attacking players and the attacking central midfield pick up a number of goals. Last season Dani Rodriguez played in that more advanced midfield role and chipped in with 4 goals and 4 assists. His contribution to the side is about more than statistics but it remains to be seen whether those numbers can be repeated from an unfamiliar role on the right hand side of midfield.

Whilst Lago Junior netted a healthy 11 goals, striker Ante Budimir found the net on 6 occasions in half the number of appearances. The Croatian has been on top form in preseason, scoring in almost every performance, including two goals in three games against La Liga sides. His form and consistency in the top division will be interesting to watch. Despite a whole army of new recruits in the centre forward position this summer the Croatian has comfortably retained his place as the first choice number 9.

Away Form

Real Mallorca cannot solely rely on their form at Son Moix to fire them to safety. Whilst a full house behind the team and their 2019 form will mean they will fancy themselves against anyone at home, La Liga is a different prospect all together. The side will need to put some results on the road together in order to stand a chance of staying up with an absolute minimum of 10 points on the road needed.

Mallorca had the 12th best away record in the Segunda last season and by far the worst of any side even close to challenging for the top six into the final few games of the season. They lost against two of the three relegated sides away last season and won only 4 games on their travels all season. This is something that will need to change and it looks that Moreno’s team will be more agile with formation changes in game as the match develops (as outlined above).

Who are the new signings?

Moreno has been publicly critical of the recruitment strategy of the club through the preseason, with the Valencian coach wanting more Spanish speakers and La Liga experience amongst the new recruits. Due to budgetary constraints, CEO Maheta Malongo has opted to go for the value market, recruiting players from Italian Seria B and D, the Polish Ekstraklasa, the Serbian Super League, Liga NOS in Portugal, Ligue 1 in France and a scattering of Spanish players from the reserve list of other Spanish sides.

Only Alex Alegria comes with any notable La Liga experience on loan from Real Betis to eventually relegated Rayo Vallecano. Even then he only made 9 cameo appearances, all as substitute and without finding the net. As yet, the Spaniard from Extremadura has yet to force his way into the side. He is not alone amongst the other new recruits with, as previously mentioned, only Lumor and Febas having made the starting 11, the former due to the absence of his predecessor.

The recruitment has also been very forward orientated. Other than Lumor and central defender Alexander Sedlar, almost all of the recruitment has been across the front 3 positions. Alegria (CF – Free), Zlatanovic (CF -€1m), Chavarria (CF -Free), Febas (CM -Free), Travjkovski (CF -Free), Señe (CM – Free), Lumor (Loan) have all joined. There has of course also been good work done by the club to make the loan spells of Budimir (€2m) and central defender Martin Valjent (€1.5m) permanent.

Expect there to be more business from the club before the closing of the window. Due to the budgetary constraints the club is under it is a case of sitting tight and waiting to see who becomes available. Inevitably the bigger clubs will do their business and once their squads are full there will be players wanting to play. This is where Mallorca need to work the loan system and we shouldn’t be surprised to see the team look very different come the end of November from its current form.

What does the squad still need?

Whilst the club has brought Lumor in there is still a need for a second left back, either as back up or to start ahead of Lumor. Salva Ruiz has been linked with a return to the club if it transpires that there is no place for him in Valencia. The club will also be looking for back up in the wide positions in midfield to give support and competition to Lago Junior and Aridai/Dani Rodriguez. More than anything the club is open to possibilities of recruiting players who will improve the starting line up.

The club seems to be taking an approach, and rightly so, of future proofing this squad. There are a number of players such as Salva Sevilla, Xisco Campos and Dani Rodriguez whose careers cannot go on forever. There is also the issue of Antonio Raillo who has made no secret of the fact that he would like to leave the club in order to face a new challenge in his career.

As a result the club is looking to acquire some of the best value young talent that they can. It seems that whilst this strategy must be applauded, both the fans and Moreno are seeking to remind Molango that there also needs to be one eye on the here and now, survival in La Liga.

The Blueprint to staying up

Mallorca have made their way to La Liga, but in reality they are playing in a league within a league for survival. In my view, there are 8 sides (including Mallorca) who could take one of those 3 relegation spots this season (below). It will be crucial for Mallorca to see themselves in a mini league with these sides and try to win the head to head games against them.

Whilst the Son Moix punters will be eagerly anticipating the visit of Barcelona, Real Madrid and the other big sides in reality survival will be built on how they do against the sides around them. Having faced Real Valladolid and Levante in preseason and given good accounts of themselves, they will feel that survival is not impossible. You won’t find a Real Mallorca fan on the island who wouldn’t snap your hand off for 17th position, come what May.

Celta Vigo
Leganes
Levante
Deportivo Alaves
Osasuna
Real Valladolid
Granada


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@Mallorcalex100

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