When Luis Enrique left Celta Vigo for Barcelona in May 2014 following an impressive season where the club finished ninth, just a year after they narrowly managed to avoid relegation, many believed he would be a hard act to follow at Balaidos. His replacement was eventually named to be the Galicians’ former defender Eduardo Berizzo, who arrived from O’Higgins, having led the Chileans to their first championship in nearly 60 years, and knew he had a tough task ahead of him.
Berizzo, though, didn’t seem to be fazed by the challenge and oversaw just one defeat in his first eleven matches, which included a surprise victory at the home of Enrique’s Barcelona. Celta hit a rough patch after that by neither scoring in their next seven games nor winning any of their next 10, but they eventually ended the campaign a spot higher than the previous term and with two points more.
This season, they’ve managed to go one better under the Marcelo Bielsa disciple and ex-Chile assistant. Despite losing key players like Michael Krohn-Dehli, Augusto Fernandez, Santi Mina, and Charles to domestic rivals, Celta have managed to go from strength to strength. Low cost, under-the-radar signings like Pablo Hernandez, Nemanja Radoja, Theo Bongonda and Daniel Wass have worked out really well and softened the blow of losing those players.
Another reason for their growth under Berizzo is thanks to the good work done with developing the younger players in the squad. Hugo Mallo and Jonny Castro have grown into one of the best full-back pairings in La Liga, Sergi Gomez has matured into a defender capable of playing top-flight football, Radoja and John Guidetti have really found their feet at the club and Ruben Blanco looks like Spain’s next goalkeeping prospect on his showings so far.
Berizzo’s willingness to sign younger players and develop them by creating a team mixed with youth and experience has been a blend which has worked out well for him so far, even if there are inconsistencies in their game which still need to be ironed out. It doesn’t hurt, though, that they have got the likes of Iago Aspas and Nolito playing their best football around them.
They’re still prone to rough patches, which has seen them earn some heavy beatings during the season, but when they’ve been at their best, they’ve been a real force. This was perhaps best exemplified by their 4-1 humbling of Barcelona at Balaidos, as well as away victories over Villarreal and Sevilla earlier in the season.
Celta haven’t quite managed to replicate the quality of their performance against Barcelona since then, but they’ve managed to grind out wins throughout the campaign which is why they currently sit fifth, ahead of the likes of Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao, and Valencia despite having an inferior budget to them all.
Berizzo’s work may well still have its flaws, but he’s taken this team to a new level through his work with younger players and good eye in the transfer market. With seven rounds to go, he’s got the Galician club dreaming of Europe for the first time in a decade. Should they manage to get there, it would be a testament to all the good work they have done on and off the pitch since relegation and crippling debt issues held them back for years following their relegation in 2007. It’d make for quite a story and be a well-deserved reward for this humble, hard-working club.