La Liga: Getafe on track for a Champions League spot
As league football returns following the international break, there is very little intrigue to be found in La Liga’s title race, which will be conclusively won by Barcelona.
However, the race for fourth place – and a money-spinning spot in next season’s Champions League – is very much wide open, with at least half a dozen clubs still in contention as we head into the final ten games of the season.
At the bottom of that pile, hipster’s choice du jour Real Betis and Basque trio Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao and Eibar are probably a little too far off the pace, needing a stunning finale to the campaign to propel themselves into the top four.
Realistically, therefore, it is a four-horse race, with current incumbents Getafe (46) points followed by Alaves (44), Sevilla (43) and Valencia (40).
My money is on Getafe.
All season, we have been waiting for Jose Bordalas’s team to blow up, and meander gradually towards mid-table mediocrity (at best) we always expected them to occupy; all season, they have refused to do so, maintaining their consistency and defying all expectations by doing something nobody really thought was possible from such a bland collection of players: being a really good team.
And that’s the amazing thing about Getafe. On the face of it, they really are a bland collection of players.
Harsh? Well, in terms of reputation, not really. After all, how many of them can you name? Most football fans, if they are being honest, would be hard pushed to pick out even one Getafe player, and even when their names are listed only one is quickly recognizable – Mathieu Flamini, the former Arsenal midfielder, who is now 35 years old and has flitted in and out of Getafe’s starting eleven since rejoining the club in December.
Other than that, though, perhaps the only player reasonably well known to the average football fan is Jaime Mata, but that’s only because his excellent form this season was rewarded with a maiden cap for Spain earlier this week – a rare piece of recognition for a club which is accustomed to the ‘international break’ really meaning a complete break rather than waving goodbye to players as they jet off to far-flung destinations with their countries.
The fact that most of Getafe’s players are relative unknowns, however, is about right. It’s pretty much appropriate for the way they play. Because this is a team in the true sense of the word – a bunch of players who cast aside personal glory and stick to the collective game plan.
There are no prima donnas, no showmen. Just a group of hard-working professionals who know how to operate effectively together, and if that means they don’t get praised to the heavens for their individual abilities…well, so what? The results speak for themselves, even if the names and reputations of the players don’t.
When you look at the stats, one aspect of Getafe’s season really stands out: their defence. They have conceded just 24 goals in La Liga – three fewer than Barcelona, eight fewer than Real Madrid, and the third-best record in the league (behind only Atletico Madrid with 19 goals conceded, and Valencia with 23).
And indeed, the defensive organization exhibited by Getafe is very impressive. Everyone knows their roles, and the whole team works together in unison to deny goalscoring opportunities to the opposition.
But it would be a mistake to label Getafe as simply a defensive team, because they are also without a doubt highly effective going forward as well, attacking with a great sense of purpose and conviction. They move forward together, they move back together…everything is done in unison, with clear organization.
Don’t think, though, that Getafe are nothing special as individuals. They have some great players who deserve a lot more appreciation than they generally receive, starting at the back with central defender Djene Dakonam, a Togo international who must be an absolute nightmare to play against with his relentless ability to stay glued to opposition forwards, never giving them room to breathe space and craftily whipping the ball away whenever the opportunity arises.
Further upfield, the young central midfield pairing of Nemanja Maksimovic and Mauro Arambarri have formed a sensible, solid partnership, Guadalupe international Dimitri Foulquier is a tireless raider down the right wing, and veteran forward Jorge Molina has provided a perfect and selfless foil for leading scorer (and now Spain international) Mata.
My own personal favorite Getafe player, though, and one whom I feel best sums up their play, is someone who has spent years in La Liga without ever gaining the recognition he deserves: right-back Damian Suarez.
The 30-year-old Uruguayan is a right piece of work, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Typical of his countrymen, he never yields an inch and seems to regard the presence of every opponent as a personal affront to his honor (I remember a particularly feisty battle with Neymar during his time with Elche a few years ago, which even seemed to surprise the Brazilian by its brutal intensity).
Suarez’s aggressive approach has seen him rack up an impressive total of 56 yellow cards during his six seasons in La Liga, topped by a whopping 14 cautions in 33 appearances last season. It’s pretty simple: don’t mess with this man, or your body will regret it.
In addition to his rugged physicality, though, he is also a very good player. He tackles well, heads the ball well, maintains his position well, passes well, crosses well…in short, he does everything well. Nothing flashy – you suspect that if he ever indulged in a step-over, he’d feel obliged to foul himself – but always effective. Just like his team.
This weekend, Getafe will host local rivals Leganes in Saturday’s early kick-off and I fully expect them to win. I also fully expect them to keep on winning with sufficient regularity to keep hold of their current fourth place in the table. Throughout the season, Getafe have never lost two games in a row. They have never conceded more than two goals in a game. They have only once gone two games without scoring.
They have been a model of consistency, and there’s no reason to think they will stop now. Getafe in the Champions League? Better believe it.