Last season’s epic finale wrote a new chapter into Zaragoza’s history. After 27 weeks in the relegation zone, a mid season 16-match run without a single win, waning attendances and creditors banging on the door, Manolo Jimenez managed to steer the side to safety, ending the term two points clear of the bottom three. It was nothing short of a miracle.
Yet with two relegations in the past decade, the priority this season will be, once again, securing safety first and foremost. With a €92m debt hanging over them, funds were hardly forthcoming for Jimenez to mould a squad to his liking in the pre-season. Nonetheless, Zaragoza were one of the busiest clubs in Primera over the summer despite the financial constraints.
Midfielder Apono made the permanent move from Malaga after impressing on a loan spell last season, and is joined by Ivory Coast international Christian Romaric and Argentine Franco Zuculini both joining as free agents. Lucas Wilchez has joined from Chilean side Colo Colo to add attacking options out wide.
There are also high hopes for forward Javi Alamo, joining from Recreativo where he was nominated as one of last season’s revelations in the Spanish second tier. He will look to complement Helder Postiga, whose services the club managed to retain.
There are concerns over the defence. Just a week before the season kicked off Jimenez said he still needed three defensive reinforcements to add to the purchase of Loovens and Alvaro. “I am worried,” Jimenez admitted about the situation. If he can bring in those players, Jimenez will be obliged to show a vast improvement on last year’s results. Failure to convince the board to bring in more back-up may well mean Zaragoza once again hold on right till the very end.
The difference maker – Helder Postiga
Only Granada and Racing scored fewer goals than Zaragoza last term. “It’s up to me to score the goals,” admitted Helder ‘Postigol’ Postiga in the preseason. The Portuguese international hit nine goals in his first year with the club and playing in front of a revamped midfield will aim to improve on that tally.
Best signing – Apono
Antonio Galdeano Bentiez – Apono – was one of the architects of the miraculous escape last season after joining on loan from Malaga at the midway point, with five goals in the last nine games. The key target over the summer, the industrious midfielder’s signature for the club delighted the Coach and fans alike.
His time? Jose Mari
Jose Mari signed from Jaen with a view to bolstering the reserve side. Yet pre-season performances in midfield from the 24-year-old impressed Jimenez and may yet see him become a first team addition, justifying the player’s decision to turn down offers from Second Division outfits to play in Spanish top flight.
Coach – Manolo Jimenez
After performing the escape act last season, Manolo Jimenez is revered at Zaragoza and the board proved their faith in him to guide the club forward in handing him a contract till 2015. Favouring a 4-2-3-1, the former Sevilla and AEK Athens tactician has looked to build a more physically competitive, not to mention fitter, team in the pre-season.
The big question…
Can the defence hold out? “We’re missing quality and quantity in defence,” said Manolo Jimenez just a week ahead of the start of the season. The Coach believes he needs to bring in a right-back, another centre-back and a defensive midfielder in order to have a squad capable of reaching their target of avoiding another nail-biting end to the season.
Probable line-up: Roberto; Paredes, ALVARO, LOOVENS, Obradovic; APONO, ZUCULINI; MONTANES, ROMARIC, Edu Oriol; Postiga
IN: Loovens (d, Celtic), Laguardia (d, Las Palmas), Goni (d, Cartagena), Montanes (m, Alcorcon) Wilchez (m, Colo Colo), Doblas (g,Xerez), Alvaro Gonzalez (d, Racing), Carlos Hernandez (d, Jaen), Romaric (m, Sevilla), Apono (m, Malaga), Javi Alamo (a, Recreativo), Lucas Porcar (a, Villareal B), Zuculini (m, Hoffenheim)
OUT: Da Silva (Pachuca), Lafita (Getafe), Pablo Alvarez (Catania), Juan Carlos (Betis), Dujmovic (Mordovia), Micael (Atletico de Madrid), Mateos (Real Madrid Castilla), Barrera, Luis Garcia (Tigres)