While the last season’s headlines and La Liga title went the way of Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid, Mauricio Pellegrino’s Alaves were undoubtedly the side to defy most critics. The Argentine was only appointed on the eve of the campaign for the newly-promoted club, who were embarking in their first campaign in Spain’s top flight for over a decade. Tipped by many to go straight back down, the secured a top-half finish and qualified for the Copa Del Rey final – the first domestic cup final in their history.
This was achieved without any notable investment and a modest squad comprised of eight loanees – including Theo Hernandez, now at Real Madrid – alongside free agents and cut-price deals. They started the season with a four-game unbeaten streak including an opening day draw at Atletico Madrid before a sensational victory at Barcelona two match days later. It was a season of memorable results – they beat Villarreal home and away, remained unbeaten against Atletico, took six points from Betis and four from Athletic Bilbao, whilst also beating Valencia, Real Sociedad and Celta Vigo.
Pellegrino departed in the aftermath of May’s Copa final loss to Barcelona kick started a spell of instability and a revolving door both and off the pitch which has dominated the six months since. The final defeat was also to be the last game at the club for eight of the 14 players who participated while two permanent managers have come and gone since. Luis Zubeldia lasted four games but his side’s failure to pick up a point or even score a goal saw him swiftly dismissed. Former Albania boss Gianni De Biasi then was instilled but despite winning three of his eight games in charge, recent damaging defeats against Getafe and Eibar saw him sacked as the club slid back to the foot of the table.
Seven of the current squad are loanees and none have made a positive impression this season with Bojan Krkic, Munir El-Haddadi and Alvaro Medran have perhaps been the most notable underwhelming performers, having all previously shown promise at the top level. The side badly misses last season’s stars Theo Hernandez and Marcos Llorente, now both at Real Madrid, while the spine of Zouhair Feddal, Victor Camarasa (now both at Betis) and Deyverson (now Palmeiras) have all departed.
The Basque club’s next two La Liga home fixtures are against sides in the relegation zone – Las Palmas and Malaga – giving immediate hope for the building of momentum, in some form. They will hope to have a permanent boss in place ahead of such a crucial run of matches and to give him the opportunity and time to do business in the January transfer window. Last season’s euphoria will provide cherished memories forever for fans of El Glorioso, but pain this time around is looking increasingly inevitable.