Eibar are an extraordinary team. They are a team for the people, and there are only 27,000 of them in the town. The fact they are even in La Liga is a miracle, given they were relegated on the final day of last season and only stayed up due to Elche’s financial problems, which saw them relegated and Los Armeros reinstated. But could history be about to repeat itself?
At the midway point of the previous campaign, they lay in eighth place on 27 points. They were in dreamland, and the fans thought they were safe, despite being tipped to go straight back down only months before. The problem is they did, technically, go straight back down. In the proceeding 19 games, they only won twice and as a result finished in 18th place on only 35 points. It was a freefall of vast proportions.
But after Coach Gaizka Garitano departed, thinking that his club would be playing second-tier football this season, Elche’s issues allowed Eibar back into the League. It seems as though every decision that the club have made since his parting with the team he had achieved back-to-back promotions with has been the right one.
First is the appointment of Jose Luis Mendilibar. The Basque Coach is certainly well-travelled, having managed four other La Liga clubs and having a previous spell as Eibar Coach back in 2004. Contrast this with Garitano, who had never coached anyone but Eibar. Yes, he knew the club as well as anybody, but his inexperience in La Liga was always going to cause problems.
Mendilibar has made the team extremely difficult to beat. They have only lost three games in this campaign to date, and those losses came against Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and, most recently, Real Madrid. Much of this new-found resilience is based around their home form.
“[Eibar] were aggressive, intense and didn’t allow for a quiet game,” Rafa Benitez said after Madrid’s 2-0 win at Ipurua. “The win has more merit when it comes against tough opponents. I’ve been [to Ipurua] a few times. I really like [Eibar] as a team and their humility is an example to other clubs in La Liga. They should be proud to have a pitch where it’s so difficult to win.”
Ipurua has become a fortress. The key ingredient has been victories over the teams in their bracket, the likes of Rayo Vallecano and Getafe, and even though they could only muster draws with tougher opponents such as Sevilla and Celta Vigo, they are not losing many games.
Without doubt, the atmosphere at the ground stimulates the team, but it’s not down to the fact that they have huge attendances at games, seeing as it’s impossible in a stadium with a capacity of just over 6,000. Rather, it’s almost always full. In the first eight weeks of this campaign, statistics showed that Eibar had the most on average with 84%. Coupled with the propinquity of the fans and pitch, Ipurua makes for some place to watch a football match.
Another of the reasons why this side should not make the same mistakes as last time around is the experience that has been brought into the squad. Aleksander Pantic, Ivan Ramis, Antonio Luna, Adrian Gonzalez and Asier Riesgo are all players who have spent years plying their trade in La Liga. Riesgo’s name does not exactly bode well for a goalkeeper, considering it translates as ‘risk’ in Spanish, but the 32-year-old has made some crucial saves so far.
On top of the added know-how, Eibar are scoring goals, and a lot of that is down to striker Borja Baston. The on-loan Atletico Madrid forward has scored six goals so far, and it’s fair to say that without him, the club would probably not be in the position they’re in at the moment. Admittedly, the man from the capital has not scored in his past three games, but Sergi Enrich’s form is also slowly hitting the ground, with three goals in his past three appearances.
Eibar used to be fired up by the siren at the old factory in the town every morning at 7:35am. Now, the siren sounds before games to tell people that it is time to go to Ipurua to watch the team play. One thing that will never change, whether this form is maintained or not, however, is that the fans will always be there, rain or shine.