3 Coaches & 4 Points – Elche’s Miserable Centenary Year

Elche stadium

January normally marks the start of the second half of the season in LaLiga. This year, courtesy of the first winter World Cup, we’re not even that far along, yet for Elche it already feels like the game is up.

16 matches, 4 points, 3 coaches and 0 wins. That’s Elche’s LaLiga 2022/23 season to date and you can add a Copa del Rey exit against third tier minnows Ceuta to that. It’s hard to think of a worse way to mark a centenary year with Elche Club de Fútbol turning 100 earlier this week.

An Unexpected Collapse

Elche are not the first team to be winless at this stage in a LaLiga season. Indeed, Levante failed to win any of their first 19 matches last term, before recording an impressive 8 victories in the second half of the campaign, still not quite enough to save them.

To some extent, there are parallels between the two cases. Like Levante, on paper Elche have a squad that while not likely to pull up any trees, should at least be competitive with almost everyone else in the bottom half of this league. Having equalled their best top flight finish since the 1970’s last season by ending up 13th, Elche were able to prepare for their third straight LaLiga campaign without many major summer alterations.

Of the 16 players who featured in their 3-1 win over Getafe on the final day of last season, 12 remain at the club today. Their most notable departure was left-back Johan Mojica who joined Villarreal but they still ended the summer with a net spend of around €7.5m whilst also adding the likes of Álex Collado on loan from Barcelona and notably managed to convince key man Pere Milla to sign a new contract despite interest from other LaLiga clubs.

In short, while a relegation battle remained very plausible, this utter collapse was not one that many saw coming and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why things have got so bad, so quickly.

What has gone wrong?

Complacency may be one factor. Having beaten the drop relatively comfortably in the end last season under Francisco, Elche would have headed into the 2022/23 campaign believing they belonged at this level having had to fight until the very end to stay up the previous year. Perhaps second season syndrome is striking a year late.

The Elche fans themselves summed it up best when they sang “we’re (still) on holiday” with their side 4-0 down at home to Athletic by Half-Time early on this season.

That may help explain their sloppy start, but it doesn’t offer too many answers as to why, 16 games into the season, Elche are still struggling for anything in even the most winnable of home games. 

Similar accusations could have been made of Cadiz after 5 games with the Andalusian side rather than Francisco’s Elche occupying bottom spot in the table at that point. With no goals or points and 13 conceded, it seemed like Cadiz and not Elche were the most likely candidates to be completely cut adrift. 

Yet Sergio quickly found some solutions with Cadiz having lost just twice since then while Elche are still searching for theirs with the worst record in LaLiga for both goals scored and goals conceded at this stage.

3 Coaches, No Solutions for Elche’s Woes

The Elche board very quickly had a decision to make on whether to stick with Francisco, who had done brilliantly during the previous season, or look for new direction. Things came to a head on matchday 7 with a trip to Rayo Vallecano. With just one point to their name, it was billed as a “must win” or at the very least “must not lose” game for the Elche boss and events in Stoppage Time in Vallecas would prove just how fine the margins can sometimes be in football.

With the game level at 1-1 and already deep into Added Time, Tete Morente ghosted into the penalty area for the visitors, only to scuff a glorious chance to win the game. Just 75 seconds later, the ball was in the net at the other end, with Unai Lopez lashing in a stunning volley for Rayo to condemn Elche to a 6th defeat in 7 matches.

It was the turning point that wasn’t, not just for Francisco who was sacked the next day, but for Elche’s season as a whole with the wait for that elusive league victory ongoing over three months later.

To an extent, you could understand the logic in dispensing with Francisco. A run of just 1 point from 7 games is enough to pile on the pressure for any coach, no matter their previous achievements. However it was much harder to fathom why they turned back to Jorge Almiron, 20 months on from his initial departure following an underwhelming spell that ended with Elche 19th in LaLiga.

While they’d at least avoid defeat in 3 of their opening 4 games under Almiron, it never felt like quite the right fit and by the time of his sacking just before the World Cup, Elche’s plight was already getting close to terminal.

Onto coach number three they went, and in Pablo Machin, Elche fans could perhaps find a bit more reason to be positive. The former Girona, Espanyol and Sevilla boss was afforded the luxury of a pre-season of sorts by the World Cup break and it was clear that if they were to have any chance of beating the drop, Machin would have to hit the ground running.

Four games in, only two of which have been in LaLiga, it’s already safe to say that has not been the case. While he wouldn’t have expected too much from the trip to the Metropolitano in late December, Elche’s home game with Celta Vigo last Friday felt “make or break” for their chances of even competing to beat the drop.

Heading into the match, Celta were the only other team in the league to have taken as few points as Elche from their previous 8 games. In many ways, it was the perfect fixture for Machin to properly launch his reign and for any potential recovery to begin. Yet once more Elche fell short with their defence allowing Celta an all too easy yet familiar route through in just the 5th minute, with Iago Aspas bundling home from close range for what would prove the game’s only goal.

There was the odd moment of promise going forwards for Elche in that game, but you’d be hard pressed to find any real signs of progress or cause for positivity. Defensively they continued to look vulnerable throughout and while it’s too early to pass real judgement on Pablo Machin, it doesn’t feel premature to say that Elche will be playing second tier football next term.

How do Elche compare to the Worst Teams in LaLiga History?

The Worst Ever LaLiga Teams

PlayedWonDrewLostPointsGoal DifferencePoints per Game
Celta Vigo 1943/442625199-520.35*
Sporting Gijon 1997/9838272913-490.34
*0.42 if 3 points per win were applied instead of 2.

If Elche’s current struggles continue for much longer, attention will soon turn to the history books and the historic lows when it comes to points tallies in LaLiga. 

The Sporting Gijon side of 1997/98 are statistically the worst ever team to play in the Spanish top flight. They won just twice that season, finishing with 13 points.

Celta Vigo did manage to pick up even less with an all-time LaLiga low points tally of 9 during the 1943/43 season. However seasons only lasted 26 games back then with only 2 points per win on offer.

The Worst Teams in LaLiga in the 21st Century

PlayedWonDrewLostPointsGoal DifferencePoints per Game
Cordoba 2014/15383112420-460.53
Granada 2016/1738482620-520.53
Malaga 2017/1838552820-370.53
Elche 2022/231604124-240.25

The 21st Century has witnessed some pretty poor teams be relegated from the Primera División with 20 the lowest points tally in the new millennium. That record was originally set by Cordoba who won just 3 times during the 2014/15 season and were relegated with an 8-0 home defeat against Barcelona with 3 games to go.

It was matched two years later by Granada who reached 20 points with 8 to play, but didn’t add to that tally in a calamitous end to the season best remembered for a comical training session delivered by Arsenal legend Tony Adams who didn’t quite turn out to be the saviour that the Andalusian side needed.

Granada were by no means the only really weak LaLiga side during the late 2010’s though. Osasuna were relegated the same season with only 2 more points and 12 more goals conceded. The subsequent 2017/18 season also saw two teams relegated with 20 and 22 points respectively as Malaga and Las Palmas dropped into the second tier without any real hint of a fight.

Those are some of the low bars that Elche are now aiming for. As it stands, they are on course to set all-time record lows with their points per game average of 0.25 worse than even the Sporting side of 1997/98. They need 16 points from their remaining 22 games to avoid being the first LaLiga team this century to fail to reach 20.

Spanish football writer
About Mark Sochon 1777 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