In recent years, the league has been all about the ‘big three’ of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. This year, it was no different, although Valencia now appear to be a viable ‘fourth way’ in the short term.
Christian Stuani has been on fire this season for Girona.
Regardless of whether or not Valencia can continue to perform with such strength, the gap between the top four has been sizeable this season. The distance between the haves and have-nots is further illustrated by William Hill’s Champions League odds, which spent a significant time this April declaring Real Madrid and Barcelona as joint-favourites to win the cup.
Girona – the next success story?
Beneath the elite four, however, lies an intriguing tale of progress against the odds. Girona, newly promoted from the second tier, could yet qualify for the Europa League. Even if that particular outcome does not pass, the correct signings could make that possible next season. But what could Girona fans expect if qualifying via seventh place in the league?
The first consideration is how Girona would be placed in the seeding system for UEFA club competitions. As it currently stands, Girona would enter the UEFA Europa League at the second qualifying round. Because of Spain’s high international rank, Girona would have a good chance of being seeded at this stage.
In the event of European qualification, the odds would be stacked against Girona at all stages, but there is always time for an upset.
Tactics and dramatis personae
Observing the seeding system can be beneficial, but tactics are another matter entirely. At a fundamental level, Machín would be well-advised to play to the strength of players in the current roster that have prior experience of two-legged ties at the qualification round of a UEFA competition.
The more intricate details of European battle plans would depend on the specific identity of Machín’s signings. In terms of where the squad would need bolstering, the only present idea lies within the brain of Pablo Machín. While Girona’s funds remain limited in comparison to the more well-established La Liga clubs, finding suitable loan players from the better La Liga clubs is an obvious starting point.
In that respect, there would be no need to replace Gorka Iraizoz in goal, with the stopper’s experience of UEFA competitions spanning back as far as the 2005/06 season. Tactically, focusing strongly on providing service to Christian Stuani would also be a no-brainer. Successful European campaigns often rely on individuals amongst a close-knit team standing tall, and right now, the Uruguayan striker is proving to be Girona’s gateway to better times.
Qualifiers and beyond
In the third and fourth qualifying rounds, assuming Girona’s survival, the club would undoubtedly be unseeded. At qualification stage, there can be a huge range between the top-seeded team and the bottom one, but having a large coefficient is no guarantee of success. This season’s Europa League was evidence of that, with Fenerbahce being knocked out by minnows Vardar in the fourth qualifying round, while Östersunds FK went on to survive the group stage.
Beyond the final qualifying round, the situation becomes clearer, although Girona would certainly be destined for one of the two lower pots, thus ensuring that the quest to become the next Sevilla-style success story remains as difficult as ever.