In response to Deportivo la Coruna’s game against Valladolid on the weekend, the Spanish press were unanimous – average. “Depor accelerated toward Europe with the handbrake on” read La Voz de Galicia. “It’s worst performance of the season at the Riazor”wrote Eugenio Cobas in La Opinion A Coruna. “Depor survives without the ball”he quipped in reference to the fact that the home team allowed visitors Valladolid to enjoy 61% of possession.
It was a lucky win, that’s for sure. Depor were horrible for much of the game, and it was only Valladolid’s ineptitude in front of goal that kept the locals in it. I guess that can happen when you’ve gone seven games without a win and 610 minutes without even scoring. “The best thing was the result”mused Miguel Lotina at the post match press conference, “Playing like this you can only win once.”
But they did win. They may have been bad, lucky and downright boring at times, but like a good team do, they still took home the three points, courtesy of a classy strike from French-Tunisian youngster Lassad Nouioui in the seventh minute. The kid is making quite a name for himself up Galicia way. “His presence in the game was overwhelming, attracting, although Deportivo didn’t show anything else.” commented Xaime Calvino in Xornal de Galicia.
Win number fifteen takes Depor’s points tally for the season up to 53. They now sit in seventh, two points clear of Malaga in eighth and two points behind Villarreal in sixth. What’s more, they’re only three points behind Valencia who occupy the fourth and final Champions League place. For the first time in five seasons, Europe’s top club competition is within reach. But, are Super Depor super enough to reach it?
Deportivo are no stranger to the Champions League. They were regular fixtures in the competition between 2000 and 2005. They’re finest moment in the competition was surely their 2003-04 campaign. Beaten by a Jose Mourinho inspired Porto outfit in the semi’s, they knocked out Juventus in the round of sixteen without conceding a goal in either leg. They then followed that up with a remarkable comeback against AC Milan in the quarterfinals. Down 4-1 after the first leg at the San Siro, Super Depor won the return leg 4-0.
That victory over AC Milan was indicative of what Deportivo la Coruna is all about -they’ve always been more of a champion team than a team of champions. Sure, they’ve always had one or two superstars, be it a Valeron, Rivaldo or Diego Tristan. But mainly they’ve been a bunch of hardworking, determined, talented footballers under the guidance of an equally hardworking and determined manager. This is the Deportivo formula for success, and it’s worked out fairly well for them.
This seasons Depor vintage is no different. Impressive youngsters like Lassad, Ze Castro (on loan from Atletico Madrid) and Angel Lafita; the frizzy haired marvel who is Jose Andres Guardado; the underrated Daniel Aranzubia in goal; the experienced heads of Sergio and Manuel Pablo; and the tireless work-rate of Julian De Guzman and Joan Verdu. Not to mention, when fit, the inspiration and class of Juan Carlos Valeron. Led by the astute Miguel Lotina, they are on the brink of a return to the big leagues.
They must feel a little confident of their chances this year. The three teams ahead of them – Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Villarreal – may have more quality on paper, but they’ve been wildly inconsistent this season. Atletico in particular. They must feel even more confident when they take a look at the remaining fixtures.
Villarreal and Valencia will clash in three weeks time, but before that the lads from El Madrigal have to face Barcelona and Real Madrid. Valencia, meanwhile, play host to Real Madrid this weekend and are then in the capital the next week facing Atletico. Atletico face an inspired Espanyol this week, and after hosting Valencia at the Vicente Calderon, they have to travel to San Mames for a date with Athletic Bilbao.
As for the boys from the Riazor, in the remaining four rounds they will must travel to Andalusia twice, to face Recreativo Huelva and Sevilla, plus play host to Getafe and finally, Barcelona. Not the toughest of draws, especially seeing as Barcelona will probably travel to the Riazor with little to play for.
It could all fall into place for Super Depor. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, they’re free to chase a spot in next season’s Champions League. It’s within their reach of they’re good enough. I think they are.