Barcelona and Real Madrid might be dominating at the top of the table with five games gone, but Alavés are enjoying some of the hottest form in La Liga
The post-match day hangover is one of the classic traits of any Spanish football fan. A tough Monday following all the excitement of the weekend where the talking points usually revolve around the top teams in the competition. And, indeed, taking a glance at the standings after five games and you can see Barcelona up there, Real Madrid close behind and…Alavés?
In a surprising twist of fate, ‘El Glorioso’ seems ready to pick up their pace just where they left it in the 2016-2017 season. After a hiatus of one year, they’re once again the underdogs of La Liga, the little team that could. It might be a short-lived streak, but there’s one undeniable fact: they’re already one fourth of the way of achieving their goal this season, which is capturing 40 points and avoiding relegation.
Plenty of think-pieces have been written regarding how smart decision-making and economic expertise helped Alaves establish themselves as a medium-tiered side in La Liga. After their surprising promotion in the summer of 2016, their fantastic season under Mauricio ‘El Flaco’ Pellegrino allowed them to surprise the world and battle mighty Barça in a Copa del Rey final. They ultimately didn’t win the trophy, but captured the imagination of thousands of fans, flabbergasted at how such a small club could achieve such a huge feat.
With Pellegrino’s departure, the board had to make a choice. And they chose…poorly. Luis Zubeldia was a gamble that never paid off: too inexperienced, he was sacked in the 2017-2018 season after only four games. The bosses then turned towards Italian veteran manager Giani De Biasi, whose defensive style never fitted Alaves’ modern approach to football.
With only a handful of points in their backpack, Alavés then brought in Abelardo Fernández, known for his good work at Sporting de Gijon but with a lot of problems to fix with little time left. And he did it. Alavés avoided relegation with plenty of games remaining. Outstanding and well-deserved.
Abelardo could’ve done his job (saving the team from promotion) and stopped right there, but that’s definitely not his style. Under ‘El Pitu’, the team has thrived into breaking the historical record of best start of the season (10 points out of fifteen).
Since Abelardo was handed the reins of the team (December 3rd 2017), his stats are out of this world for such a humble pack of players: in the last ten months he’s been in charge of the squad for thirty games (90 points overall), his men have conquered 51 points. Only Barcelona (70), Real Madrid (59) and Atlético (57) have earned more points. A little blue-and-white sail boat speeding in the same league as luxury cruises.
How is it possible? A quick look at the squad reveals uncharted talent, hidden to the untrained eye but over-performing at an incredible rate. Check Ibai Gómez, for example. The winger is in the hottest form in La Liga right now – daring, talented and fearless when taking on defenders and attempting the impossible just because he’s so confident. He’s scored three times already this season and has been crucial. His team mate Jony is also a dagger on the opposite wing. Together they’ve made their mission to terrorise any opposition they might face.
Up front, both players are aided by a Ruben Sobrino that just keeps growing and improving, with the experience of John ‘Super’ Guidetti ready to bring his confetti whenever starter Jonathan Calleri isn’t in top shape. Wakaso and Brasanac provide the effort, courage and muscle in midfield. In their rearguard, Pacheco keeps getting better and better, possibly one of the best young keepers in the league and a name Luis Enrique ought to watch closely at some point in the near future.
All in all, a bag full of surprises that has taken down a few bigger sides in La Liga (their huge 1-5 win vs Rayo Vallecano is their biggest away score ever). Almost a hundred years old, ‘El Glorioso’ Alavés is ready to put up a hell of a fight after their slump last season. They’ve already made it into the top spots of the standings: we’ll see if the rest of the contenders are able to bring them down.