The performance followed the weather on a dreary day in Palma as Mallorca watched their excellent start at home slip away against the ten men of a resilient Espanyol. The pressure of winning at home hung over the team like the ominous clouds that dampened the atmosphere, and in the end a sub-par performance saw Mallorca come away with nothing.
After the high of grabbing a point in Barcelona before the international break, everyone expected a win at the Iberostar Estadi this weekend. In fact, all signs pointed towards it: Mallorca’s start at home had been almost perfect, and if that wasn’t enough, Espanyol had yet to win on their travels. It was a sure-fire victory, and it seemed nothing could go wrong.
And yet, as unlikely as it may have seemed, it was almost entirely expected.
The longer Mallorca continued to rely on home wins, the greater the pressure to win became, and the truth of the matter was that the home streak simply had to end at some point. In truth nobody expected it to continue for too much longer, and certainly nobody expected the team to be as strong at home as they were last year. However, to let valuable home points slip away against relatively weak opposition – especially given their poor away record – is a bitter blow.
What’s more disappointing, perhaps, is that Mallorca had every opportunity to pull themselves back into the game after going a goal down, when Espanyol were harshly reduced to ten men in the first half. It was a gift, and one that should have seen Mallorca pounce, taking advantage of the hand they were dealt. Unfortunately, it only seemed to galvanise Espanyol, making them more rigid and determined than ever, and their stubborn defence simply wouldn’t allow Mallorca any decent chances.
Indeed, Mallorca suffered from a distinct lack of a cutting edge up front. The team never really created any clear-cut chances throughout the entire game, and despite one or two close efforts, never really posed enough of a threat to Espanyol, who ended up leaving the island with a comfortable three points.
And so the post-mortem begins: what caused such a shock result? How can a team, so strong at home, who is able to hold their own against the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, concede defeat to a squad in a similar position, unable to perform on their travels?
Firstly, with regards to the brilliant points earned against Barça and Madrid, this is simply down to the style of performance and the mentality of the team. Against such powerful teams, Mallorca set out with no real intention of winning: it was all about grinding out a draw, frustrating the opposition, with the small hope of striking on the counter-attack. And as we have seen, Mallorca has proved adept at this tactic, coming up with valuable points on both occasions. When called upon to take the fight directly to the opposition, however, the team shows its weaknesses. Mallorca never really controlled the game, and the lack of incision upfront was clearly evident. Heading out onto the pitch to win and heading out to simply get a result are two vastly different prospects, and where Mallorca has thus far excelled at one, they have begun to show they aren’t quite as proficient at the other.
Another contributing factor could simply be the pressure of winning at home, of maintaining excellent form. When a team knows it absolutely has to get a win, that it must score, it can become an extremely daunting prospect. Conversely, having such good home form may have led to slight complacence: the expectation to win does not necessarily have to remain exclusive to the fans, and the players alike may have taken the game for granted.
Other possibilities relate to off-field incidents. There are the ongoing rumblings of dissatisfaction with the way the club is run, with former coach Gregorio Manzano’s comments over the international break bringing Mallorca’s shambolic administration again to the fore. What’s more, Laudrup made a statement before the game regarding his concerns that too many names were being left out of his team sheet each week. Are we beginning to see the emergence of unrest, or low morale, in the dressing room?
Of course, all this doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. Teams draw blanks against perceived weaker opposition all the time, and it isn’t always the case that an expected win turns into a result. So now it’s about how the team manages to bounce back from it.
Unfortunately, the pressure to win at home remains. Winning streaks can be a double-edged sword: on the one hand, they give you the confidence to win and win again; on the other, they give you an added pressure to maintain such good form. However, in Mallorca’s present situation there are no real positives from the streak’s termination. The pressure will only increase now as home points become even more vital, and the worst aspect of the fallout from the weekend’s loss is that the confidence may have drained from the players. Only time will tell, but the air of invincibility at home may now have faded.
So, as has been mentioned countless times before, thoughts turn to any bonus points that can be gained on the road (which, due to the inevitable dropping of home points, now becomes more and more of a necessity). The team truly must dig deep and try to establish itself away from the Iberostar Estadi. The point at the Nou Camp was a step forward, and despite the steps backwards this weekend, the team may yet be able to improve. And as Espanyol have shown, form isn’t absolute: Mallorca can turn things around, and one win may be enough to get confidence away from home soaring.
Of course, this coming weekend isn’t the perfect time to start, as Mallorca head to the Mestalla to face the razor-sharp Valencia. If Mallorca are lacking a little in attack, then Valencia are certainly their opposites. Despite succumbing to a brilliant second-half performance by Barcelona at the weekend, Valencia are still very much in form and will pose a huge threat. Given Mallorca’s away difficulties, it would be a massive shock if they were able to come away with something, though based on this weekend nothing can be ruled out. So Mallorca’s best chance may be to hope for a repeat of the defensive heroics that punctuated the draw at the Nou Camp, and to hope for a temporary hitch in the excellent form of a certain Aritz Aduriz.
- Phil M.