As the teams in Spain’s second tier went off on their winter breaks, there was one team even happier than the rest. Basque side Deportivo Alaves had just secured a 1-0 win against Ponferradina to take them top of the division for the first time all season. Since returning to action at the start of the year, they have kept their lead at the summit of the Second Division, but finally look set to lose it in the Spanish capital this Sunday lunchtime.
Their next opponent is the team just two points behind them in the League table, Leganes. This tiny team from the Madrid outskirts is enjoying a surprisingly successful season and the best form of any team in the division with six wins from their last seven matches. Even more impressive is that Leganes have not lost at their Butarque Stadium this campaign, including in the 3-1 Copa del Rey win over Alaves earlier in the season. Alaves were thoroughly outplayed that evening, finding themselves 2-0 down after just 12 minutes, so Coach Jose Bordalas will not relish the thought of a second trip.
Sunday’s showdown is all the more problematic for Bordalas given he is likely to be without both his best attacking player and his best defensive player. Former Athletic Bilbao striker Gaizka Toquero signed for Alaves in the summer and has been nothing short of exceptional since returning to the Mendizorrotza Stadium. With eight goals to his name already, he is the team’s top scorer, but he is highly unlikely to make the trip after a suffering a nasty injury in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Almeria.
To literally add insult to injury, Alaves will also be without their best defender. Centre-back Victor Laguardia has played more minutes for the club than any other outfield player this season, but earned a suspension by collecting his 10th yellow card of the season last weekend. It is a less than ideal time to be sitting on the sidelines.
If Alaves were going to return north with a positive result on Sunday then they would have to have been at their very best to stand a chance and even their best may not have been enough. Although Alaves have continued to pick up points since taking the Second Division lead at the end of December, they have been far from convincing in doing so. It required a last minute goal to equalise against third-bottom Almeria last weekend, while other relegation-threatened sides such as Huesca and Llagostera were defeated at home by only the narrowest of margins.
In fact, Alaves have only won one match by more than one goal since October and that was against bottom side Bilbao Athletic. Results are most important in a title race, but the uninspiring performances should not be ignored.
Bordalas can take heart from the fact that the team top of the League at this stage the previous four seasons has gone on to win promotion and has done so as champion in three of the four cases. Nevertheless, Alaves will not want to fall to second on Sunday, even if it seems inevitable.
Image via www.deportivoalaves.com
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