Deportivo vs Real Zaragoza – The Great Escape Part 1?

At some point of every season there are the inevitable discussions over which major European league is considered the best although what the best actually comprises is seldom accurately defined. In recent times, the argument has centered around the Bundesliga, La Liga and Premiership and is often inextricably linked to the performance of teams in the Champions League even if this offers no clear assessment of the depth of quality within a league as a whole. The Bundesliga appears to be a recent discovery for many and so some plaudits are thrown in the direction of Germany before the debate moves forward. Spain’s La Liga is the most technical, they claim, but the game is too slow, it revolves around a tiki-taka style of play and lacks excitement. Observers, either ignoring or completely oblivious to their own bias, will thereafter state that the Premiership provides the greatest entertainment which therefore makes it the best.

Perhaps those who would attack La Liga as being boring or too tactical should have been at the Riazor last night and witnessed a superb encounter between two teams fighting to secure their future in the top league, and in the case of Depor, possibly their future existence. Two teams who simply went at each other for the full duration of the game with neither overly concerned about shape or discipline as the game progressed, just about getting goals and securing at least a point but always with an intention to construct play from the back in a positive fashion.


Both sides lined up with broadly 4-2-3-1 formations as outlined below:-

Deportivo vs Real Zaragoza - Starting Line Ups

Deportivo vs Real Zaragoza – Starting Line Ups

The one interesting point was the use of Bruno Gama on the left and Pizzi on the right. Otherwise, it was fairly expected line ups from both sides.

The Depor Right

Deportivo’s attacking intentions were clear from the outset. They were going to attack down their right hand side. In the opening 6 minutes, three attacks all came down the right side with Roberto saving well from Riki’s shot during these early exchanges.

The reason for the reliance upon the right was the deployment of Pizzi here rather than Bruno Gama as normal. Pizzi would cut inward onto his stronger left foot whilst Rikki drifts outwards to the right. Their combination play coupled with the prompting of Valeron gave Deportivo a strength on this side that Zaragoza never really came to grips with or managed to quell.

The graphic below clearly illustrates how Depor attacked:-

Deportivo Heat Map

Deportivo Heat Map   

The opening goal in the 10th minute began when Pizzi robbed Romaric deep in the Depor half. Depor broke on the right before cutting infield with Valeron providing a perfectly weighted pass for the onrushing Bruno Gama, cutting in from the left, to fire beyond Roberto.

The second Depor goal, and the equaliser, resulted following Abraham conceding a cheap free kick wide on the right. The delivery was good but Zaragoza partially cleared the ball only for Aguilar to head the ball back towards the goal and Marchena scored with a low strike. Zaragoza tried to push out too quickly and failed to mark players moving back into the penalty area. They had received an earlier warning when an excellent Depor set piece in the 22nd minute saw a header back across goal before the unmarked Aguilar scooped the ball over. If you were being hyper critical, the finger of blame could be pointed at Romatic who was closest to Marchena and did nothing. Zaragoza were too intent on playing a crude offside trap. The warning was not heeded and Aguilar was able to help Depor take advantage.

Abel Aguilar

Zaragoza attempted to squeeze and press Aguilar and early on it worked to an extent but the Colombian would still find the space that enabled him to dictate much of the game. Short, simple passes that kept Depor ticking over and built the play:-

Abel Aguilar Passes

Abel Aguilar Passes            

The graphic above provides further evidence of the strength of Depor on the right.

With the second most touches in the game (75) behind Manuel Pablo (77), Aguilar had a calming influence on Depor yet was able to repeatedly unnerve Zaragoza most notably at set pieces though not through delivery. Aguilar won a number of headers including one that set up Marchena for the equaliser.

In the second half, his aerial presence set up Aythami who failed to score but moments later his presence unsettled the Zaragoza backline at a corner and the ball ricocheted off the unfortunate Abraham for an own goal. This would turn out to be the winning goal.

Zaragoza Defence and Attack

Defensively, Zaragoza failed to adequately deal with Deportivo particularly at set pieces when they seemed incapable of marking properly or clearing their lines adequately. The game was a personal nightmare for Abraham at left back. Aside from Deportivo relentlessly attacking his area, the full back conceded the free kick which led to the opening goal, scored the own goal which turned out to be the winning goal and, finally, was sent off for a second caution late in the game.

Yet if Zaragoza failed to impress defensively, in attack they were just as limited despite scoring two goals. Both of the Zaragoza goals arose from defensive mistakes from Depor.

Postiga scored Zaragoza’s first goal from the penalty spot after Aythami inexplicably handled the ball in the area. Although the Portuguese striker was behind Aythami, it would still have required a tremendous effort to score. As it was, Postiga was presented with a much easier opportunity to level the scoring.

Zaragoza failed to take full advantage of Montanes pace against the veteran Manuel Pablo even if the young winger robbing the full back earned Zaragoza’s second goal. Manuel Pablo was dispossessed at the halfway line and the Depor backline was spread across the pitch as they were building play. Postiga and Movilla combined to release Montanes who easily outstripped the Depor defence and flicked the ball beyond Aranzubia to give Zaragoza the lead.

Apart from these two goals, Zaragoza only mustered one other attempt on target, a long range effort from outside the box as shown below:-

Real Zaragoza Shots

Real Zaragoza Shots  

This was the problem for Zaragoza. When they had possession, they had no cutting edge. Just 26 league goals in 29 league games before this meeting outlines the problem. Zaragoza would have decent possession and look to build attacks although they were a little more direct than Depor but they simply had nothing within the final third. Montanes looked lively but beyond that, there is not enough quality.

Can Lighting Strike Twice for Jimenez?

Manolo Jimenez somehow managed to drag Real Zaragoza from the relegation mire last season when it seemed inevitable that they would be relegated. Nine wins in their final 14 league games completed a remarkable turnaround in fortunes which continued into the early part of this season. At the mid-way point of the season, Zaragoza sat in 13th position but the rot had already set in.

And now it shows no sign of stopping. Forget about Barcelona at home next week, the real test for Jimenez and Zaragoza arrives in the following weeks when they face Celta Vigo and Mallorca back to back. These are the games which could define their season.

El Flaco

No discussion of a Deportivo game would be complete without at least a passing mention of Juan Carlos Valeron. As the veteran midfielder enjoys one final hurrah in La Liga, he still possesses the class and ability to glide effortlessly around the pitch in slow motion amidst the whirling maelstrom that surrounds him. Valeron still plays with a style and swagger that few can offer.

His pass provided the assist for the opening goal, a lovely weighted pass that ran straight into Bruno Gama’s path. In total, Valeron completed 45 of his 60 attempted passes and although he did become less of an influence as the game progressed and became more open and stretched, if Depor do pull off the great escape, it’s certain to involve him along the way.

Open Ending

With the final goal being scored in the 55th minute, both teams still pushed forward. Zaragoza to grab the equaliser for a second time in the game and maintain a gap of 4 points over Depor. For the Galicians, another goal was needed to overturn Zaragoza’s advantage in the head to head record. It made for a thrilling ending to a superb game and demonstrates the quality that exists at both ends of the La Liga table. Unfortunately, financial mismanagement over a prolonged period is now severely curtailing the ability of clubs such as these to progress beyond a hand to mouth existence. But on nights like these, the quality remains on viewing for all to see.

In terms of this game however, Depor may very well come to rue the missed chances at the end of the season.


Real Zaragoza are in trouble and Jimenez must be feeling the strain. With just five draws and eight defeats from the past 13 league games, Zaragoza represent that team which the media love so much when they talk of a relegation fight. The team that nobody expects to become involved in the relegation struggle but that somehow gets dragged into it. Perhaps there is a degree of truth given their present run of form but what is also undeniably correct is that Zaragoza don’t have a lot of quality within their squad. And early season form helped flatter to deceive.

The Great Escape from relegation remains a distinct possibility for Deportivo La Coruna. After 10 weeks in the bottom spot, three wins on the bounce have given Depor a sense of hope. From his seven league games in charge, Fernando Vasquez has secured 10 points. And the men from Galicia now have the opportunity to remain in the top flight. The job is not yet over but they have successfully completed part one and ensured that there will be a part two.


Barcelona vs Real Zaragoza

Barcelona secure their 11th league win in their 12th league game of the season with a relatively comfortable victory over a resilient Real Zaragoza side who had been in a rich vein of form. Setting aside their poor opening to the season, Zaragoza had won four of their last five games in all competitions.

The provided awkward opponents for Barcelona who won despite finding their best form or turning in a convincing display.

The Zaragoza Approach

Real Zaragoza adopted a fairly standard approach for teams visiting the Camp Nou with a reactive 4-4-2 formation selected. Considering the number of players missing from the side, the starting eleven selected by coach Jimenez produced a very effective game with defensive solidity and attacking intent when the opportunity presented itself.

The defence and midfield for Zaragoza were compact and relatively high in two banks of four. Ahead of this Zaragoza aimed to always have two strikers available. Jimenez made one big surprise in his selection with the inclusion of Aranda ahead of the club’s top goalscorer, Helder Postiga. Although some would query such a choice, the inclusion of Aranda with a more powerful, robust approach allowed Zaragoza to use him as a reference point when launching attacks.

This was not a simple “park the bus” approach either. The heat map below of the entire Zaragoza team shows how they tried top push forward and attack Barcelona . Only late as the game did they start to lose shape as the midfield tired from supporting the attack then recovering to offer defensive support:-

Real Zaragoza Heat Map vs Barcelona               

As is so often the case with such games, focus will shift to how effectively Barcelona played but this should not be allowed to detract from a highly organised and competent display from Los Blanquillos. The defence were well marshalled with Barcelona caught offside three times in the opening 20minutes of the game, all occurring on the left of the pitch.

The Goals

An acceleration in play helped create the first goal. Messi drove forward from midfield whilst Villa moved from a left sided starting position towards the centre. As he did so, Messi played a one two with the overlapping Alba, breaking into the penalty area and slotting home.

This was a key feature of the first half. Villa would initially begin on the left before cutting diagonally inward to allow Alba to overlap outside him.

The equalising goal from Zaragoza highlighted Barcelona ’s poor defensive work from set pieces and principally corner kicks. Zaragoza took their second corner in succession with the ball being flicked on at the near post. Montoya cleared the ball but Montanes collected at the edge of the area and dispatched his shot beyond Valdes aided by a deflection. The problem was not losing the first header, the problem here was that Montanes was free at the edge of the area. Nobody was close by.

The lead was regained just a few minutes later when Zaragoza failed to react to a short corner kick and were always chasing back after that. Similar to the equaliser, the ball was cut back to Song who was unmarked at the edge of the area and his controlled low shot was successful.

38 seconds. That’s how long it took from Valdes dispatching the ball following a Zaragoza attack to Messi collecting Montoya’s cut back and curling home from 20yards out. The key to the goal was the inability of Zaragoza to regain their positions and the quick transition from Barcelona aided by Montoya’s well timed overlapping run on the right.

Martin Montoya

Is Montoya the natural long term successor to Dani Alves?

Whilst it may seem premature to suggest this, there are good reasons for doing so. Alves, by his own admission, has been out of sorts this season as he searches for his best form. Combine this with the PSG rumours which persist and the need for a right back solution becomes greater.

A look at Montoya’s passes below shows his relative conservatism in comparison to the most attacking Alba from the left. It’s worth noting that Montoya did not attempt one cross on Saturday evening.

Montoya Passes vs Real Zaragoza                        

Montoya provided one key pass for Messi for the third goal but whilst his passing was generally to the side, this fails to take into consideration is movement and availability on the right flank throughout the game:-

Montoya Heat Map vs Real Zaragoza              

Montoya was not as adventurous as Alves but he offers greater defensive cover. Further, with Alba bombing forward on the left, can Barcelona afford to play two attack minded full backs in the same game? With one full backs adopting a more cautious approach, better defensive balance is maintained.

But the performances of Montoya also strength Barcelona in other respects. It weakens Alves bargaining position if his agent attempts to negotiate for a new contract as Barcelona already have a replacement.

None of this should detract from what a fully fit and focused Alves on top of his game can bring to Barcelona but so far this season we have not seen Dani Alves on top of his game.

Another win for Vilanova’s Barcelona as they close in on the best ever start to a season in the Spanish top flight even though commentators in the media continually state that the side is not playing at it’s peak. Whilst this is true, what does it say for when Barcelona do hit their peak?

Just over six months ago, Real Zaragoza seemed destined for the drop to La Segunda. Jimenez lambasted his players following another poor performance and gradually the team clawed it’s way to survival. With a host of changes introduced in the playing staff over the summer months, fears mounted again that Zaragoza would be involved in another battle. That now seems unlikely with a performance of discipline and intelligence. Jimenez noted after the game that Messi was the difference between the sides. Perhaps that’s being generous to his side but Zaragoza should be safely ensconced in mid table as the season reaches a conclusion.


All graphics and statistics taken from