After 20 rounds of fixtures, Eibar occupied an unlikely Europa League qualifying spot, having just defeated Granada 5-1, and the tiny Basque team had equalled or bettered the result of every corresponding fixture from the previous campaign. For example, they had won this season’s home match with Getafe 3-1 instead of 2-1, while they had picked up a draw in Málaga, whereas they had lost there the season before.
Eibar have since lost six of seven matches, however, and picked up five results worse than the corresponding fixtures from 2014-15. The latest was their 1-0 loss at Sevilla on Wednesday evening after a 0-0 draw had been achieved at Sanchez Pizjuan last season.
This collapse in form is reminiscent of the one this time last season, when the minnows had soared to the lofty heights of eighth place by matchday 20, before winning just two more matches that season and losing an 11-point lead over the relegation zone. Only Elche’s financial irregularities saw Eibar avoid relegation.
However, fans concerned that Eibar will this season be dragged into a similar relegation scrap need not worry. Things are different this year, not least because the club have 17 new players, the most of any team in La Liga, as well as a new Coach in the form of Jose Luis Mendilibar.
Any fears that muscle memory will panic Eibar’s players into a similar rut have little merit, given that this current group of players, bar six of them, did not experience last season’s slide down the table. The shadow of the second half of last season hovers over the club just enough that the current Eibar squad are aware of the dangers of complacency, but few members of the 15-16 squad actually contributed to last campaign’s disastrous end.
That the Coach is different this season is another reason not to panic. Mendilibar is far more experienced than the young Gaizka Garitano was last season and has already demonstrated that his team can fight against the tide of poor form to pick up a positive result, as they did with the 2-0 victory over Levante that followed three straight defeats.
At this point last season, Eibar had conceded 38 goals, which is not dissimilar to the 36 conceded this campaign. The difference this year is that the team are far more effective in attack, enough so that they can score their way out of any potential trouble. Eibar have scored 40 goals already this season, more than all but three teams in the division and 14 more than the 2014-15 Eibar had scored at this point last season. They also have a proven goalscorer in 16-goal Borja Baston, the kind of striker who can be a team’s ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card.
It was never going to be a frictionless passage to survival for a club the size of Eibar, but they are a team built to avoid relegation, and a poor run of form, which is likely to get worse with the visit of Barcelona this weekend, doesn’t change that fact.