Under Pressure – The coaches feeling the heat as LaLiga returns

LaLiga coaches

The international break is a period all struggling coaches must approach with trepidation. Historically it has often been used by clubs as the optimum moment to make a change and bring in a new coach who will benefit from the fortnight break to settle into the job and try to get their ideas across.

This season however, we are nearly through the first international break of the season without a LaLiga sacking and all 20 clubs remain under the guidance of the coaches that started the campaign. That being said, a number of LaLiga bosses are already feeling the heat as we get ready for the return of Spanish top flight action this weekend.

Coaches on the Brink

Francisco, Elche

Elche sit rock bottom of the table after 6 games with just 1 point on the board. There have been some awful displays including the recent 4-1 home defeat against Athletic Club where Francisco’s team were four down by Half-Time with fans singing “you’re still on holiday” to their players.

It has felt like that at times. Some of the defending has been comically bad for a team that was generally well organised and often tough to break open, particularly at home last season. Francisco did an excellent job in steering them away from trouble and to a comfortable 13th place finish last season, having replaced Fran Escriba in November. That has already bought him some time but there won’t be much more of that unless results and performances improve in the next few weeks.

This just feels like a classic case of standards slipping and some Elche players perhaps starting to believe they are better than they are in what is now their third season at this level. The fitness struggles of influential forward Lucas Boye has perhaps also been a factor but their defensive woes have been inexcusable and the next two games, against Rayo Vallecano and Mallorca, may determine Francisco’s future. He surely needs to win at least one.

Next 3 Games: Rayo Vallecano (A), Mallorca (H), Valencia (A)

Julen Lopetegui, Sevilla

Sevilla seem to have gone from being potential title challengers lauded as one of Spanish football’s best run clubs to genuine crisis in record time. 2022 has been a disastrous year at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan and it feels like Julen Lopetegui’s reign is heading towards a bitter ending.

After losing 4 of their opening 5 games in all competitions, including league defeats against Osasuna and Almeria, it felt like the writing was already on the wall for Lopetegui. However to his credit, the former Real Madrid and Spain boss has found a reaction from a dressing room that looked devoid of all confidence after the recent 4-0 Champions League home loss against Manchester City.

They’ve played three games since then, all away from home, and Sevilla managed to get through that period without losing. A first win of the season at Espanyol was followed by draws at Copenhagen and Villarreal, but they still head into this weekend’s home game against Atletico Madrid down in 15th and with the pressure still firmly on their coach. 

The next three games are all at home but it’s debatable whether that is even a good thing with sections of the Sevilla fanbase baying for blood, although in fairness not all of that anger is being directed at Lopetegui.

Next 3 Games: Atletico Madrid (H), Borussia Dortmund (H), Athletic Club (H)

Sergio Gonzalez, Cadiz

Sergio was a man on the very brink as he returned to former club Real Valladolid on matchday six with his Cadiz side having failed to pick up a point or even score a goal with 14 conceded in their opening five games. It wasn’t pretty or convincing, but Cadiz claimed a priceless 1-0 win at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla thanks to Alvaro Negredo’s Stoppage Time winner.

That result ensured Sergio made it through the international break but he has the unenviable task of trying to spark some life into a team that just looks short on quality across the pitch. The good news is that their early season injury problems have cleared up with Ruben Alcaraz, who was so influential in Cadiz’s late escape last season, fit again to potentially make his first start this weekend.

If the Cadiz board are honest with themselves, they will realise that they have not left Sergio with an awful lot to work with this season and there are no obvious candidates who could come in and seriously improve this team. Those realities and the win last time out should help the 45 year old get through this weekend’s fixture against Villarreal whatever the result, but upcoming games against Espanyol and Girona already feel very important.

Next 3 Games: Villarreal (H), Espanyol (H), Girona (A)

Pressure Building

There are a few other LaLiga bosses who will also be starting to feel the heat a bit after some poor results. Almeria boss Rubi is perhaps the one having the most sleepless nights outside of the three coaches already mentioned. His side went into the international break on the back of three straight 1-0 defeats against Real Valladolid, Osasuna and Mallorca. They’ve struggled to adapt following the departure of star striker Umar Sadiq but the international break may have come at a good time for Almeria who made a raft of late signings that they’ve struggled to bed in so far. Rubi looks like he will be given time to oversee that transition having guided the Andalusian club to the Segunda Division title last season, although owner Turki Al-Sheikh is not exactly known for his patience.

Real Valladolid are currently the lowest ranked of the newly promoted sides. They went into the international break following two really poor results that saw them lose both Girona and Cadiz. They were certainly unfortunate to lose the latter match though and Pacheta doesn’t feel like he is in danger of losing his job just yet with the Pucelanos widely expected to be involved in the relegation battle this season. There have been some positive performances but they really need to start putting points on the board.

Real Valladolid are currently level on points with Espanyol who have not made a great start to life under Diego Martinez. The appointment of the highly rated former Granada boss was widely seen as a major coup for the Catalan club so it would make little sense for them to abandon this project so early on. Martinez is not immune to criticism though and must make the most of a favourable run of fixtures which lies ahead. He’ll be relieved that the Raul De Tomas saga is now over with the striker joining Rayo Vallecano and we should start to get a better feel of what to expect from Martinez’s new-look Espanyol in the coming weeks.

In the top half of LaLiga, the coach with the most questions to answer right now is Diego Simeone. Atletico Madrid went into the international break on the back of a derby defeat to Real Madrid which leaves them 8 points off the top already. Even the most optimistic of Atleti fans would struggle to make a case for their side mounting a title challenge this season with the top two looking so strong. Nearly 11 years into the job (Osasuna’s Jagoba Arrasate is the next longest serving LaLiga coach – 4 years & 2 months), Diego Simeone is not going to be replaced any time soon, but we could be heading into one of those phases where his critics start to grow louder. The Champions League is going to be key in this congested period between now and the World Cup with Atletico Madrid currently only 3rd in a relatively weak Group B following defeat in Leverkusen.

Madrid Derby
Spanish football writer
About Mark Sochon 1699 Articles
Mark is a freelance writer based in Madrid, writing mostly about Spanish football. His work has been published by the likes of Guardian Sport & World Soccer. Contact: marksochon (at) hotmail.co.uk