Celta Vigo An Example To Spanish La Liga


If somebody had said at the start of this season that Villarreal-Celta Vigo was going to be a top-of-the-table clash come October, not many people would have believed them. After all, in this day and age, when it’s usually the sides with the deepest pockets who dominate the top Leagues in Europe, teams like Eduardo Berizzo’s Celta have no right to be there.

But things have been changing in La Liga, with the prize of top spot for last Sunday’s winner at El Madrigal. It’s an encouraging trend that the teams like Celta, who are punching above their weight as of late, don’t owe their success to immense external investment. Instead, they have done it on their own terms.

Not since the turn of the century have Celta fans seen such a successful team at Balaidos, when the likes of Alexander Mostovoi, Valery Karpin, Claude Makelele, Mazinho and Gustavo Lopez played in Europe season upon season. Current boss Berizzo was even a part of it, playing as a centre-back when Os Celestes reached the Champions League for the first time in their history.

Berizzo returned as Coach last year and guided Celta to very-respectable, eighth-place finish in 2014-15, but what has been even more remarkable is the manner in which he has taken this Celta team to the next level since Luis Enrique’s departure. He employs the same style as his predecessor, with plenty of pressing and possession akin to Barcelona, yet is an example of what can be accomplished with quality coaching and a dogged belief in a set way of playing the game. He has proved that the best players are not needed, rather those who suit a specific style and are willing to adapt to his methods.

There is an extra dimension though. Celta are now capable of adjusting to the demands of each match they play in. They are habitually far superior in terms of possession as, excluding their victory over Barcelona, they have enjoyed a possession average of 66 percent so far this season. Yet, against the Catalans, they transformed into a counter-attacking machine, which absorbed Barca’s pressure with the efficiency of a sponge and then destroyed them on the break, eventually winning the game 4-1. This demonstrated how Berizzo has added another element to Celta’s armoury.

“We’re happy to have beaten a team like Villarreal, who equalised, despite being a man down, but our quality and drive gave us the win,” he said after the game against Villarreal last week. “Our objectives will not change every seven days, even if we think we can beat anybody on any pitch, because we’re a solid team who work hard and pose our opponents a lot of problems.”

The only criticism of Celta this season would be their struggle to break down smaller teams, who sit deep in their own halves in order to deal with the Galicians’ pressure. They have been held to draws at home to Las Palmas and Getafe, despite beating esteemed opponents Sevilla and Villarreal and treble-winners Barca, and this could prove to be a problem for the club if they are to fight for the European places come the end of the season.

Berizzo’s team are undoubtedly a well-drilled unit who perform together with an efficacy which is brilliant to watch, but certain individuals have been exceptional this season. The front three of Nolito, Iago Aspas and Fabian Orellana, who are rapidly becoming known as ANO, have scored 76% of Celta’s goals this term. Nolito has been the stand-out performer, though, with a move to Barcelona becoming increasingly likely in the January transfer window. On top of this, captain Augusto Fernandez has morphed into one of La Liga’s best all-rounders, Daniel Wass has proved to be an excellent acquisition from Evian and 19-year-old Jonny Otto continues to shine at full-back.

Next up for Celta is Real Madrid, in what will be another table-topping clash. As usual, Madrid will be favourites, but Celta will have a plan, just like they always do. They will also have ANO, La Liga’s new trident of attackers, which is quickly spreading fear across the breadth and depth of Spain.

Abideen Owolabi

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