The highlight of Saturday’s Galician derby was undoubtedly Juan Carlos Valeron’s assist for Deportivo’s equalising goal. It was the Spaniard’s second assist of the season and especially crucial given both the local pride at stake and the four consecutive defeats suffered by La Coruna. While Valeron’s creativity remains fundamental to Coach Jose Luis Oltra’s gameplan, there are challenges in accommodating a 37-year-old in the heart of Depor’s midfield.
Despite languishing in 17th place, Deportivo remain committed to the short passing game they were so famous for in Valeron’s heyday. They have played the eighth most short passes per game at 360, despite averaging less than 50 per cent possession this campaign. No surprise that they have played the fewest long balls per game in the Primera Division. In Valeron they have a reliable out-ball, a player who despite often being flanked by two holding midfielders, is nevertheless comfortable receiving the ball in tight situations.
He is an asset that Oltra has had to carefully manage. The former Spanish international is yet to complete a match this term, invariably retiring to the bench after 60-75 minutes. Valeron’s style of play, founded on the nimble footwork that sees him glide in and out of challenges amid congested midfields, exposes him to injury and the Coach will have breathed deeply following the 10 fouls the playmaker has suffered this year. As Oltra prepares to face Valeron’s former club Real Mallorca twice in the space of the next four days, protecting his talisman will be at the forefront of his selection policy.
At the same time, the club’s reliance on a variety of veterans means they are vulnerable in certain areas of the park. The ageing legs of Manuel Pablo and Carlos Marchena have presented difficulties in deploying a high line. At the weekend, Iago Aspas ruthlessly exploited the lack of pace in the Depor back four to set up Celta’s opener. In accommodating Valeron in the engine room, the team lacks the overall competitiveness and energy of other clubs in La Liga. Little wonder that only Barcelona have executed fewer tackles.
Given the injury problems faced by Valeron throughout his career - “a lost career” stated Arsene Wenger - perhaps the most important statistic of all is that this season is the first time since 2004-05 that he has managed seven Primera appearances by the end of October.
Steering his star player clear of injury, building around his strengths and complementing his weaknesses, are likely to be the most significant challenges facing Oltra in ensuring Deportivo retain their place in the Primera Division this term.