This is likely to be the last roundup of the action in La Liga for the foreseeable future given that the league will be suspended for at least the next two matchdays — and probably longer — due to the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s make it a good one.
Espanyol are in trouble
Results have improved at Espanyol since Abelardo became their third head coach of the season at the end of December. They are taking double the number of points per match they did before his arrival. The problem is that the rest of the bottom four have also started to pick up points at a decent clip. Leganés and Mallorca have matched Espanyol’s accumulation; Celta Vigo have taken two more. Espanyol were three points adrift at the bottom when Abelardo took over and five points shy of safety; they are still three points adrift at the bottom, but now six points off safety. Instead of 20 matches to resolve the situation, they now have just 11. In addition, their underlying numbers don’t paint a promising picture. In their nine matches under Abelardo, Espanyol have the fourth-worst expected goal difference in the division. Celta Vigo, Leganés and Mallorca all look better by that measure. Not only that, but compared to the aggregate under his predecessors David Gallego and Pablo Machín, Espanyol’s numbers have actually worsened since Abelardo took charge. Their attacking output has barely changed. The shot profile is a bit different — they now take fewer shots of higher average quality — but the end result is the same. Theirs remains one of the worst attacks in the league. The defence also doesn’t look good. Espanyol concede just over two more shots per match than previously. With barely a shift in the average quality, their xG conceded has risen. The evidence suggests their deeper positioning and more passive approach to defending under Abelardo isn’t really working for them. Espanyol are running 2.5 goals ahead of their xG difference since Abelardo came in. Given that their current rate of points accumulation hasn’t improved their position, any drift back toward the underlying numbers would likely finish them off. Their 26-season stay in the top flight could well be coming to an end.
Eibar might be too
The knock-on effect of the bottom four increasing their points rate is that Eibar have been dragged back down into the relegation contest. After a 2–1 home defeat to Real Sociedad on Tuesday, they are now just two points clear of the bottom three. Over the full course of the campaign, Eibar’s underlying numbers are the second-worst in the league. That is quite a dropoff given they had the sixth-best xG difference last season. Things have improved a bit since I wrote about their concerning start to the season. Eibar carried an awful -0.71 xG difference per match through their first 10 matches of the campaign. Their attack had cratered, and their defensive numbers were barely better. They’ve stabilised a bit since. Across their subsequent 17 matches, their attacking numbers have shot up from a paltry 0.66 xG per match to an almost league average 1.01 xG. Coupled with a marginal defensive improvement, they are now the sixth-worst team in the league by the underlying numbers. But it hasn’t been enough to see off the threat of relegation nor to placate irascible head coach José Luis Mendilibar. Tuesday’s fixture was the first Primera División encounter played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus outbreak. If that set up had continued, it likely wouldn’t have been long before the pitch-side microphones were shut off during Eibar matches given the volume of frustrated “bloody hells” that emanate from their bench. Things are tightly positioned toward the bottom of the table and the gains Eibar have made as the season has gone on mean little when they remain one of the five or six worst teams in the division. Relegation is still a real and present threat. Even if they do survive, a lot needs to change if they are to avoid an equally uncomfortable campaign next season. On a minutes-weighted basis, Eibar had the oldest squad in La Liga last season, and they still do — it’s just that most of them are now another year older. Three of their four most-used outfield players will be 33 or more by the end of the season. Only two players under the age of 27 receive significant minutes. The squad needs a significant refresh this summer regardless of whether or not Mendilibar stays on. He’s been in charge since 2015, but has consistently signed just one-year extensions. Maybe this will be the year he decides to call it quits.
Shot counts, shot shares and bad shots
The shot count in Getafe’s 0–0 draw at home to Celta Vigo on Saturday really stood out. Despite taking 19 shots to Celta’s four, a near 83% share, Getafe were unable to find a way through. Their expected goals tally of just 1.10 provided an early clue as to why. Three things seemed fairly unique: a failure to win with such a high shot share, an inability to score from so many shots, and such a small xG from that volume of efforts. The fixture was actually the 13th in La Liga this season in which one of the teams took 80% or more of the shots. The highest share was recorded by Osasuna in their 3–1 win at home to Valencia in October in which they took almost 90% (28–3). Only two teams have taken a larger proportion than Getafe did against Celta whilst failing to win: Sevilla’s 89.5% share in their 1–1 draw with Celta in August, and Leganés’ 84.6% share in a 0–0 with Real Betis last month. Just six teams have attempted more efforts on goal without scoring. The highest tally came in Villarreal’s 0–0 draw at home to Atlético Madrid in December. Villarreal took 23 shots to Atlético’s 18 that day. How an earth did this end scoreless? Real Madrid have twice taken 20 or more shots without reward, at home to Betis and Athletic Club. On both occasions, they racked up north of 2.4 xG — the two highest xG sums without scoring this season, and by some margin at that. Getafe’s tally was much lower. Their shot locations were far from great, and Celta had a good number of bodies goalside when they did shoot from decent positions. Only Nemanja Maksimović’s early second-half effort wide from a Jorge Molina cutback was even a one-in-five chance. But their average xG per shot of 0.058 doesn’t actually rank that low amongst all occasions when a team took more than a league-average (11.19) number of shots this season. Fourteenth in fact. The worst? Mallorca barely mustered half a goal of xG from 16 shots in a home loss to Real Valladolid last month. Now these really aren’t good shots.