It wouldn’t take you too long to point out the standout games in Osasuna’s season last year. Disappointingly, two heavy defeats to Real Madrid and Barcelona tarnish a campaign where Osasuna finished just behind Levante, duelling for European football. The drubbings stick in our minds as the lasting memories of the 2011/12 season for Osasuna but all we remember are the scintillating performances of Ronaldo and Messi. No one cares for Osasuna.
Especially when a team so proudly express their desire to contest others with their widely-regarded brand of ‘anti-football’. Why lean towards the unattractive and over-physical Osasuna when you could watch Barcelona or Real Madrid, or more immediately Athletic Bilbao?
Because Osasuna represent a lot more of what Spanish football has to offer.
Many, especially in the UK, believe that La Liga is about as predictable as Scottish football (well certainly not anymore at least) but it is far from that. Osasuna wouldn’t have finished a credible 7th place last season if it were all about keeping the ball on the floor and ensuring the game is played in Barca’s image. And they definitely would not have beaten Barcelona last season if the style of play wasn’t effective.
That’s right, Osasuna exacted revenge over Barca for their 8-0 mauling at the Nou Camp earlier in the season with a 3-2 victory, owing thanks to on loan midfielder Raul Garcia who almost single handedly catapulted the club into Europe.
Garcia returned for his second spell in Pamplona from Atletico Madrid last season and scored a career-best 11 league goals and assisted almost as many for his teammates. But of course unless you play for the top two you rarely attract any deserved attention and adulation.
His contribution to Osasuna last season was at least acknowledged but as the ex-youth product leaves for Atletico once again, his impact will only be truly measured as Osasuna struggle minus his presence. Ibrahima Balde managed 7 goals behind Garcia but he too has departed, transferring to Kuban Krasnodar in Russia.
The immediate priority must be to purchase a striker to match the contribution of Garcia last year but very cheaply. Osasuna don’t have money to burn and owe roughly €29million in debt, very similar to fellow Primera Liga teams. Under the socio model however, Osasuna aren’t in real trouble of extinction but as a result players must be sold regularly to sustain income.
Once again Osasuna will rely on free transfers as a means of filling the voids left by Balde and Garcia but whilst they continue to follow maverick manager Jose Luis Mendilibar’s tactics, the club won’t push forwards without a formidable striker.
Mendilibar’s rants and raves have made him a cult favourite and his tactics can upset a couple of purists but the effectiveness of the man cannot be disputed. Favouring a Stoke-like system, Osasuna’s physical game bullies opponents out of possession and prevents draws slipping into defeats. Only 10 games were lost last year, fewer than anyone else bar Barca and Madrid partly due to the incredible wrath of their ferocious manager.
Even in pursuit of a win, Mendilibar will force an onslaught forwards irrespective of the, at times, porous defence. Maybe there lies an excuse for the landslide defeats to Madrid and Barcelona but also proof of the team’s battling state of mind.
Osasuna are a credit to La Liga but aren’t necessarily easy to watch all of the time. Goals may come at a premium this year but hopefully that only cranks up Mendilibar’s madness to 11.
La Liga: 7th
Copa del Rey: Round of 16 (lost to Barcelona 6-1 on agg)
Nano free from Numancia
Sisi free from Real Valladolid
Aleandro Arribas free from Rayo Vallecano
Joseba Llorente loan from Real Sociedad
Emiliano Armenteros free from Sevilla
Ibrahima Balde €3.8million to Kuban Krasnodar
Sergio Fernandez free to Sporting Gijon
Javad Nekounam free to Esteghlal
Oscar Vega free to Leganes
Nacho Zabal loan to Huesca
Eneko Satrustegui loan to Numancia
Dejan Lekic free to Genclerbirligi
One to Watch: Manager Jose Luis Mendilibar
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