For the past few seasons Real Zaragoza have survived relegation from La Liga by the smallest of margins, rather like Wigan continue to do in the Barclays Premier League each year. Unsurprisingly, Zaragoza are again embroiled in a fascinating relegation battle which looks destined to last until the final game of the season. Can Manolo Jiminez repeat his heroics of last season and keep Zaragoza afloat in the Primera Division?
Zaragoza recovered miraculously last season, winning 8 of their final 12 matches, knocking away a 9 point gap at the foot of the table to stay up at Villarreal’s expense. This season the situation is not so disastrous but judging by their current form, it is getting a bit sticky. They’ve not won in 10 matches, not since Athletic Bilbao were defeated in December and Jiminez’ men were sitting comfortably in 12th. Now in 17th, hovering above the bottom three shakily, this is their lowest ebb of the season and are suffering a worrying dip in form.
Additionally, Zaragoza have scored just six goals from open play this season. Top scorers Helder Postiga and Apono are heavily reliant on scoring from set-pieces, penalties or own goals – which just aren’t enough to survive in this league. The club desperately miss Angel Lafita, who moved to Getafe for free in the summer, as they simply aren’t creating enough opportunities to score when the ball is live.
Red cards have been an issue too. The club have had 9 reds, to seven different players this season, almost matching their goalscoring record. Too often Zaragoza have been reduced to 10 men in important circumstances and with only themselves to blame. They lost two players against Getafe, one each in vital games with Granada, Espanyol and Mallorca and another one in the reverse with Getafe. It has dropped them roughly 6/7 points over the course of the season, a total which could be the difference between survival and relegation.
Zaragoza start matches with an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation with Postiga leading the line ahead of Zuculini, Apono and Montanes but their offensive play hasn’t been consistent enough throughout the season. Too often Zaragoza have relied on long balls and shots from distance which suggests that Jiminez’ charges are a side stumped for ideas going forwards. Their play looks painfully limited and stale, exemplified by the recent performance against relegation strugglers Granada, a match that had 0-0 written all over it.
Jiminez has attempted to freshen up the side with Blackburn youngster Ruben Rochina and Victor Rodriguez but little has changed since their inclusions. Just 7 players have scored for the club this season and four of those register only a single strike. Helder Postiga – the former Spurs flop – is the jewel for Zaragoza and has struck 10 of their 25 goals this season, predominantly from aerial balls into the box. Apono has 7 but takes the penalties and has contributed just one goal that hasn’t been from the spot.
With the highest shot percentage from outside the area in the division, 55%, Zaragoza can be difficult to watch at times. Unlike last season a revival seems less likely considering their lack of attacking options and heavy reliance on defending. Maybe Zaragoza survived last season when deep down they knew it was probably their time. If this season continues to go the way the form guide suggests it might then Zaragoza have to finally deal with the consequences of relegation. The team they currently have, apart from Postiga and Sapunaru and Gonzalez, would struggle even in the second tier of Spanish football. It looks grim again for Zaragoza and unlike in previous years, their time could finally be now.