The curious case of LaLiga’s bottom two

Played 50, won 2. That’s the combined record of Almeria and Granada this season in LaLiga. Perhaps then, it should be no surprise that their weekend meeting at Los Carmenes, effectively a “must win” for both teams, ended in a draw.

Both look to be on course for a return to the Segunda Division, in Granada’s case an immediate one while this is only Almeria’s second season back in the top flight after winning a promotion in 2022 amidst a wave of optimism that they might even become a genuine, new force in Spanish football under wealthy Saudi owner Turki Alalshikh.

That dream has fallen entirely flat this season with Almeria still winless with only 13 games to go and in danger of breaking all kinds of unwanted records.

Yet the curious thing is, Almeria and to an extent Granada, have at times this season played genuinely quite well with both giving teams near the top of the table a real fright in recent months.

Are Granada and Almeria really that bad?

Both sides had some fairly obvious flaws from day one this season, so it’s no surprise that both Granada and Almeria are involved in the relegation scrap. However it is hard to fathom just why they have so few points and find themselves in such miserable positions in a league that contains a number of other clubs with similar resources, aspirations and squads that on paper are not significantly superior.

Granada came up as Segunda Division champions, along with Alaves and Las Palmas last year. They’ve actually scored more goals than both of those sides this season, but find themselves with 14 fewer points than Alaves and 21 fewer than Las Palmas.

Almeria meanwhile survived in the final minutes of a dramatic final day last term when a strong home record was almost entirely responsible for their survival. A summer of change saw Rubi depart and Vicente Moreno arrive to work with a host of new signings, but a disastrous start set the tone for a disastrous season.

To a large extent, both sides have been on a similar journey this term. Severe defensive deficiencies led to their early problems. Almeria and Granada made up the bottom two by the end of matchday six and that has remained the case ever since.

The natural, although not necessarily correct, thing for a struggling team that is conceding too many goals to do is to seek out a more defensively minded coach. Both did just that with Gaizka Garitano taking over at the Power Horse Stadium in early October while Alexander Medina replaced Paco Lopez at Granada in November.

Both have struggled to turn the tide of bad results, although performance levels have for the most part increased in recent months.

Almeria have had a number of nearly moments in their pursuit of that elusive league victory, curiously often against the best sides. They twice equalised away to Barcelona in December, only to lose 3-2. They were 2-0 up at Real Madrid in January, but lost 3-2 at the death. Just a week earlier, they’d played then leaders Girona off the park, creating a host of good chances in a goalless draw.

Granada went even closer to winning in Barcelona earlier this month, surrendering 2-1 and 3-2 leads to draw 3-3. Aided by some useful January additions, they’ve looked a bit more assured but have failed to truly build on a really impressive performance in the first game of 2024 when they were utterly dominant in a home win over Cadiz.

The stats that suggest LaLiga’s “worst ever team” shouldn’t even be in the relegation zone

Almeria currently average just 0.32 points per game which leaves them on course to break the record of Sporting Gijon (0.34 points per game in 1997/98) as statistically the worst team in the history of the Spanish top flight.

Yet bizarrely, according to Expected Goals data from FBREF, they aren’t even one of the worst three sides this season with their xG Difference of -9.3, only the fifth worst in the division. Meanwhile their xG total of 33.0 is actually the seventh best record in LaLiga, placing them above sides like Real Sociedad and Real Betis.

They’ve created more xG than their opponents on eight occasions this season without winning a game. That clearly doesn’t reflect very well on their ability to finish chances, but they’ve not been helped by the injury problems of perhaps their most clinical forward Luis Suarez who hasn’t been fit enough to start a game since scoring a hat-trick in the 3-3 draw against Granada in October.

Almeria led that game 3-0 and may not have ever truly recovered from the psychological blow of failing to win it.

A fine comeback hardly acted as a springboard for Granada either though. While they’d hold Barcelona to a 2-2 draw the following weekend on a night when Bryan Zaragoza was almost unplayable, a run of just one point from five games followed as the lights went out on Paco Lopez.

Some of Granada’s underlying numbers are also not terrible. They’ve scored fewer goals than their xG tally of 29.2 and have conceded seven more than their xGA of 42.0. However even allowing for that, they still rank as one of the three worst teams in terms of xG Difference, albeit with slightly better tallies than Cadiz and Las Palmas with the latter by far the biggest xG over-performers in Spain this season.

Is there any hope for either?

There are certainly shades of the Levante side that went 27 games without a win in LaLiga between 2021 and 2022 about what’s going on with the division’s current bottom two and particularly Almeria whose winless streak now spans 28 matches including their final three games of last term.

That was a Levante squad that had some talented players with the likes of Jose Luis Morales, Jorge de Frutos, Enis Bardhi, Jose Campaña and Roger Marti ensuring they carried a goal threat. Yet it was also one that just seemed to forget how to win football matches.

By the time Levante finally ended their winless streak at the 28th time of asking in January of the 2021/22 season, the writing was already largely on the wall. The Valencian side actually went on to win eight times in the second half of that campaign, but still went down with 35 points.

Their recovery might offer a tiny bit of hope to Almeria and Granada. If they can only stop the rot and put three points on the board, more opportunities to win games may soon follow, particularly in the final weeks when up against teams with little left to play for.

The way things are shaping up, 35 points might even be enough for survival this term with fourth bottom Celta Vigo currently only on 20 points themselves from 25 games. 

Cadiz are third bottom and winless since the first day of September and are looking pretty desperate. They’ve scored just 15 goals, by far the worst record in the division and as far as eye tests go, they look and feel like the worst team in this league right now.

That serves up a glimmer of hope, at least for Granada who’d be right back in the mix could they somehow spring back-to-back victories together, much easier said than done when you’ve only won twice all season. Their fans have not given up, but they are running out of time if there’s going to be any kind of great escape act.

For Almeria though, they’d need to take more than two points per game from here on in just to reach 35 points. Even in a world where they suddenly start converting chances and closing games out, that seems well beyond the realm of possibility.

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