Four games into the fledgling season Mallorca’s bright, if fortunate, start has now descended into our worst fear; on the back of three consecutive defeats, Los Bermellones are facing a major crisis of confidence. With so few games played the team obviously has plenty of time to turn things around, but that has to start somewhere – and the major problem at the moment is that this catalyst doesn’t appear to be anywhere in sight.
Something has to change. The question is: what?
In those first four appearances, Los Bermellones have managed just one goal – which came extremely fortuitously from the now-departed Jonathan de Guzman. Essentially, then, Mallorca have yet to hit the back of the net this season, and whichever way you look at it – 3 games or 4, 270 minutes or 360 – this is an extremely worrying statistic. Indeed, this underlines the main problem with the squad at the moment: without scoring, there’s no way to win.
Of course, heading into the season, we all knew that the squad was looking short on firepower. There are only two recognised strikers in the squad in Tomer Hemed and Víctor Casadesús, but neither has shown the goal-scoring pedigree needed to lead the line in the same way Pierre Webó did last term. Still, despite this knowledge – despite coming into the season knowing that no reinforcements were likely to be forthcoming – I don’t think anyone expected things to be this bad.
Unfortunately, the problem for Los Bermellones extends beyond the (not-so) simple task of finishing; it all stems from a lack of creation. In those four games, Mallorca have probably created just half a dozen genuine chances from which you would expect to score, and this simply isn’t enough. Without creating good chances, no forward – whether they are a mediocre squad player or a world class icon – is likely to get on the scoresheet regularly, so it’s unfair to point the finger of blame squarely at one area of the team. The departure of de Guzman has left a hole in the midfield’s creative department – and this vital component of the team is something that needs to be addressed urgently.
At the moment, Emilio Nsue has looked like one of the team’s best players so far this season – he has been one of the only midfielders showing some dynamism and creativity, often managing to form half-decent chances for himself, if not his teammates. His problem, as he has admitted openly, is needing to improve on the end product. Sergio Tejera has looked composed in the centre of midfield, echoing de Guzman, but he has so far lacked that incisive, cutting edge in the final third; close, but no cigar. Meanwhile, Castro has shown glimpses of getting back into his swift stride, and should be given an opportunity in the first team ahead of the as-yet underwhelming Alfaro.
One man who the team is clearly missing in the centre of the pitch is Pep Marti, whose veteran edge often keeps the team much more fluid and composed. Tomas Pina looked extremely out of his depth against an average Villarreal this week, for example, as his passes were often wayward and his tackling often clumsy. When young players like this are called up to the first team, they would benefit greatly from playing alongside Marti and his wealth of experience.
Moving away from chance creation, further complications arise, of course, when the team’s defensive frailties reappear. Without the solidity of a good defensive midfielder protecting them, the back four is getting exposed much more – and simply doesn’t look able to deal with it at the moment. Whether it’s through a lack of organisation, confidence or simply talent is up for debate, but too often Mallorca have conceded soft goals so far this season, and have in the process forfeited any chance of scraping vital points. Uncharacteristic mistakes from the leaders at the back – Ivan Ramis and Dudu Aouate – have cost the team on more than one occasion, whilst Chico looks more like a fish out of water with every passing match. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marti Crespi given one more chance at the back, as Chico desperately needs time to take a breath and compose himself, at the very least.
All in all, then, it’s been a pretty dismal opening to the season for Los Bermellones fans – after managing to grab three lucky points on the first day, there have been very, very few positives. From the poor finishing to the lack of chance creation and from defensive frailties to unfortunate mistakes, pretty much everything has gone wrong for Mallorca.
So what can change? Many are calling for Laudrup’s head, but I’m on the fence. One can truly understand where he’s coming from with his complaints towards the board, who have left him with very few options in both attack and defence. But at the same time, he has to expect that, and should endeavour to boost the confidence of the players he does have at his disposal – Mallorca do possess players with a wealth of talent, and if Laudrup can manage to get the best of them, then many of the team’s problems will go away.
Maybe all that needs to change is for the players to gain their confidence back; perhaps if they manage just one goal, it will open the floodgates and give the team some much needed momentum. Indeed, the players are operating at the moment as though they have a huge mental block standing in the way of scoring – their desperation and frustration in the closing stages of the match against Villarreal was plain for all to see. One successful chance may eradicate all of that, easing the pressure and giving everyone in the team a boost.
A shortcut to gaining this momentum and giving the players a fresh start, of course, would be a managerial change. But unless Laudrup walks away, this seems an economically unviable option for the club, taking into account its delicately balanced finances. Or maybe that’s a necessary risk to avoid further trouble down the line…
One thing is for certain: the club needs to turn its fortunes around, one way or another. At the moment, I’d say we should keep the faith in Laudrup and the squad in the same way Laudrup should keep the faith in the players he has, not the players he could have had with a bigger transfer budget.
Up next, though, is a winnable home match against Real Sociedad, and it provides the team with an excellent opportunity to get things back on track. Should they fail to do so, though, then perhaps the thin ice Laudrup is treading will begin to crack even more rapidly – maybe there will be no other choice.
Many would say that the manager is on borrowed time already. The bigger worry is that, unless Los Bermellones start to get some points on the board, it may be the club’s position in La Liga that is on borrowed time.
by Phil Montgomery