Mauricio Pellegrino leaves Butarque – Have Leganés got it wrong?

Leganes vs Valencia Match Preview & Prediction

Leganés are a club that has got precious little wrong on or off the pitch in recent years. A third tier team as recently as 2014, their rise from the Segunda B to the top flight was masterminded by Asier Garitano. The club has built steadily on their success, drawing in new fans whilst gradually improving the team without spending beyond their means. When Garitano finally left in 2018 for Real Sociedad, they made another smart appointment as Mauricio Pellegrino came in and guided the club to their best ever league finish of 13th last season.

Therefore you have to go back many years for the last time Leganés have had any kind of ‘crisis’ to deal with. However with relegation fears growing from a start of just two points from nine games, the club parted company with Pellegrino on Monday in a decision described as ‘mutual’.

While any coach whose team is bottom of the league may have reason to fear for his job, it was still something of a shock to see a club that has been a model of stability in recent years opt to make a change and there’s reason to think they may have made a rare wrong call.

A stronger Squad than last Season?

Part of the reason why the Leganés hierarchy will be frustrated lies in the fact that they did back their coach this summer, with the largest spending spree in the club’s history. Over €20 million went towards permanent transfers with a further seven coming in on loan. Many of the new arrivals were at the club last term on loan and their struggles so far this season certainly can’t be attributed to new signings struggling to gel.

Leganés 2018/19 – Most common XI

Leganes XI 2018/19

Leganés 2019/20 – Most common XI

Leganes 2019/20

Overall the squad is certainly at least on par with what they had last year and their most typical starting eleven is very similar. The spine of the team that impressed in 2018/19 remains largely unchanged with the same three centre-backs who formed such a solid back-line last term as Lega finished with La Liga’s 5th best defensive record.

In midfield on paper they are strengthened by the arrival of Roque Mesa with Ruben Perez and Oscar Rodriguez featuring alongside him following solid seasons last time around. The attacking options are also essentially the same with Martin Braithwaite, Guido Carrillo and Youssef En-Nesyri mostly competing for two places up top. Therefore it’s hard to pinpoint any major reasons why Leganés should be significantly weaker this term.

Replacing right wing-back Allan Nyom, who is now a few miles up the road at Getafe, has been one issue with neither Marc Navarro nor Roberto Rosales fully convincing so far. There has also been a bit of uncertainty in goal with Sevilla loanee Juan Soriano making six starts although last season’s number one Pichu returned to the side in the South Madrid derby on match day 9.

The Stats – Have Lega simply been unlucky?

Stats (average per game) 2018/19 2019/20
Possession 44.5% (19th) 46.3% (17th)
Passing Accuracy 73.2% (17th) 73.6% (16th)
Aerials Won 25.1 (3rd) 20.7 (7th)
Shots 11 (16th) 13.2 (4th)
Goals Scored 0.97 (18th) 0.44 (20th)
Expected Goals Scored 1.09 (19th) 1.13 (14th)
Goals Conceded 1.13 (5th) 1.56 (18th)
Expected Goals Conceded 1.16 (3rd) 1.30 (11th)
Points 1.18 (13th) 0.22 (20th)
Expected Points 1.35 (10th) 1.17 (14th)

Stats via whoscored & understat

The notion that Leganés simply overachieved last term isn’t really borne out by the stats. In fact, in terms of Expected Points, they ranked in the top ten during 2018/19 with their impressive defensive record, particularly at Butarque key to their success. This time around, their return of just two points and four goals from nine games is clearly very poor but statistically speaking, they aren’t doing an awful amount different to last season.

The passing and possession stats are slightly up but they remain a team that favours a direct style and Pellegrino hasn’t rocked the boat too much in that regard. They’ve actually created more Expected Goals this term than they managed last which suggests that they are still creating chances with a failure to convert them costing them badly. Last season their two top scorers were En-Nesyri and Carrillo with a combined total of 15 goals but neither man has scored yet in 2019/20.

Pellegrino may certainly think that had his players been more clinical, narrow home defeats against Osasuna and Levante may well have produced very different outcomes.

That’s not quite the full story with Leganés’ defensive stats clearly down on last season. In terms of goals conceded, they’ve gone from having the 5th best record to the 3rd worst and while not quite so extreme, the xG conceded have also followed a similar trend.

However overall, there is certainly a feeling that on the balance of play, Leganés should have got results from at least half of their games and the fact they rank 14th for both xG and Expected Points suggests all was not broken with what Pellegrino was trying to do.

Read more – Can Pablo Machin turn things around at Espanyol?

Where do they turn next?

Unlike Valencia and Espanyol who have both already sacked coaches this season, Leganés haven’t immediately named a successor. With huge home games against Mallorca and Eibar coming up over the next fortnight, it seems likely that they will want to get somebody in place this week.

The leading out of work candidates in Spain right now are Abelardo and Quique Setien. The latter is highly unlikely to be rocking up at Butarque any time soon for a number of reasons but Abelardo would on the surface be a decent fit with the current situation at Leganés not dissimilar to the one he inherited at Alaves where he went on to do an excellent job.

Whether he would take the Lega position is more questionable and former Huesca boss Francisco has reportedly already rejected the chance to take over. There is quality in this squad though and while it may not be one of La Liga’s glamour jobs, there is still plenty for the new man to work with.

Mauricio Pellegrino deserves plenty of credit for that and he can leave with his head held high having guided the club to its best ever league finish whilst establishing a way of playing that even some of the very best teams in Spain have struggled against.

Spanish football writer
About Mark Sochon 1538 Articles
Mark is a freelance writer based in Madrid. He has also lived in Seville and Barcelona and has written extensively about Spanish football. His work has been published by the likes of Guardian Sport & World Soccer.

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